Applied Projects dissertation

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Birth Problems: Expecting Mothers Taking Illicit Drugs

When women who are pregnant struggle with a drug problem, the drug use does not only affect the mother, it greatly affects the development of the fetus (Ornoy, 2002). This does not only stop during the fetal stage, it goes on until to after the child is born, and the child will then develop a number of physical and health problems during his or her lifetime. This is because the drugs which the mother is taking can cross the placenta, which is where the baby is and gets all his or her nourishments. These drugs can cause direct toxic affects to the fetus during the developmental stages.

A mother who is actively taking illicit drugs during her pregnancy can suffer from a number of high risk diseases, and this will contract to her unborn baby. These risks include: (1) Anemia, (2) Skin infections, (3) Blood and heart infections, (4) Hepatitis, and even (5) Sexually transmitted diseases (Sales & Murphy, 2000). This drug abuse can also lead to develop the child with a drug addiction; it is very dangerous and highly inhumane to create a child who is born with a drug addiction.

When the child is born, he or she may experience painful withdrawals from drugs, because while he or she was in the womb, the baby's body was used to a constant intake (Ornoy, 2002). This leads to stress on the baby's organs and also psychologically, an unhappy life. An adult who suffers the pain from drug withdrawal is very severe, it becomes more so when it is the pain of a helpless child.

Drug addiction is a very complex situation, and it becomes more so complicated when a pregnancy is involved. In most cases, the pregnancies are unplanned, and there is no prenatal care given to the mother who suffers from drug addiction. The best thing to do during this situation is help the mother get through her addiction before the fetus develops very severe conditions.

Problem Statement

The mortality and high risk birth rates of infants born from mothers who continue to use the drug throughout their pregnancy (Sales & Murphy, 2000). These children are born malnourished and are of an unusually low birth weight. They are more likely to develop problems such as diabetes, heart conditions and metabolic syndrome throughout their lives. These children are at a very high risk of being born with a drug addiction and immediately suffer from drug withdrawal syndromes soon after they take their first breath. The expecting mothers who are found with a drug problem usually did not plan the pregnancy, and have no intentions of getting help for their drug problems (Ornoy, 2002).

Research Questions

The research questions this paper will focus on are directly related to the conditions a baby will develop once he or she is born from a mother with a drug addiction. These questions are as follows:

1) What are the risks a fetus is facing when an expecting mother has a drug problem?

2) What are the rates of babies born and their problems when the mother is involved in drug abuse?

3) Are there any chances of long-term solutions for this problem regarding the child?

Review of Related Literature

It has been reported that 27% of women ages 18 -- 25, and 14.7% of women ages 26 -- 34 have used illicit drugs during their pregnancy during the year 1991 (Ornoy, 2002). However, the exact number of pregnant women who suffer from a drug problem are not available, since mothers who have illicit drug problems usually did not plan their pregnancy and in some cases may not even know that they were pregnant until the very late stages of pregnancy. These mothers do not receive the proper pre-natal care, and this greatly affects their unborn children who are in risk of developing very complicated health and psychological problems post-natal.

Expecting mothers who are continually involved in drug abuse can contract several diseases from the usually unsanitary conditions of illicit drugs they may use on the streets, or from the sharing of needles. These harmful diseases can cross the placenta of the fetus and directly affect the baby, who will develop the disease even before he or she is born. These diseases can include hepatitis, blood infections, HIV, etc. (Ornoy, 2002).

During the year 1990, there was an estimated 350,000 to 625,000 newborns in the United States who were exposed to illicit drugs while they were in the womb. This resulted into a number of infant fatalities straight after birth (Jaudes & Ekwo, 1997). These deaths were the results of maltreatment and/or illnesses caused because of the mother's drug addiction during pregnancy. In a study conducted during the year 2002, it has been found that 40% of newborns tested positive to drugs which the mother has been using in the time of pregnancy.

Women who are taking drugs during their pregnancy and who did not plan it may abandon their infants in pursuit of more drugs. There are also cases where mothers who use illicit drugs become irritable of their children and this results in abuse or neglect, which can in turn lead to infant death (Sales & Murphy, 2000).

There are a number of congenital anomalies which are found in 2-3% of children when they are born (Jaudes & Ekwo, 1997). A bit later in life, these anomalies can be detected in up to 5% of infants. 20% of infant mortalities are due to birth defects, and these same problems are found in the number of children hospitalized soon after their birth. These defects are related to drug exposures during pregnancies and toxins which the mother has taken. These can drugs and chemicals (1-2%), infectious agents (3%), maternal disease states (4%), which are common when the mother of the child suffers from a drug addiction during pregnancy (Jaudes & Ekwo, 1997). Maternal drug use can result not only in complications during pregnancy but can attribute to very unusual birth weights of children, which can lead to sudden infant death.

The fetal stage is very important during the development of a human, and exposures to illicit drugs can negatively affect this development (Ornoy, 2002). During the pre-organogenetic phase of pregnancy -- this is when from the time of conception until about five weeks in to the pregnancy -- a mother who is actively taking illicit drugs can suffer from a miscarriage. However, if the embryo does survive, exposures to illicit drugs do not take effect until the later stages of development.

The period which is 18 -- 60 days post conception are very crucial for the embryonic stage. This is when the embryo is very sensitive to foreign toxins in the mothers body which cross the placenta (Ornoy, 2002). The damage illicit drugs can take are taken on the embryo's cells which can make organ development difficult and becomes irreparable. When this occurs, there is a very likely chance that when the child is born, he or she will suffer many structural anomalies. During this time, the organs and cells are not yet fully developed, and illicit drugs can stop them from developing. This causes problems of function and malnutrition for the child after birth.

Short-time exposures to illicit drugs are less dangerous as compared to long-term exposures which are carried out throughout the entire pregnancy. However, even the slightest bit of exposure increases the risks of the fetus developing functional and structural problems later on in life. These effects directly relate to the cells and the organs of the baby, also his or her immune system (Ornoy, 2002). Cognitive damage can also occur with very high doses which are continued throughout the entire term of pregnancy.

This use of illicit drugs can also cause very adverse affects on the fetus and may result in the baby developing a drug addiction after birth. This is seen throughout mothers who have carried on with their drug addiction problems throughout their entire pregnancy and who have not received proper pre-natal care.

Constant drug abuse can also lead to premature labor, placenta infections, miscarriages, physical defects and many different psychological problems. Unfortunately, there is no available cure for children who are born with a drug addiction due to pre-natal drug abuse, and the statistics for children who continue drugs throughout their lifetime due to this issue are very alarming. Studies and research suggest that mothers need to first seek help for their drug problem before it greatly affects their unborn children. These types of help can be found in rehabilitation and support groups who are readily available to provide information for mothers who are pregnant and battling a drug abuse problem (Williams, 1999).

Research Plan

This study aims to tackle to issue on pregnancy and drug abuse. More specifically, it will go into qualitative and quantitative methods of research, delving in to the problems developed in a fetus and a child born from a mother suffering from a drug addiction.…[continue]

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