Drug Use During Pregnancy and Its Effect on Prenatal Development Term Paper

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Drug Use During Pregnancy

There is no point within the study of human biology that is more awesome than the conception and development of a child. It is during this time that most people would say the most amazing work of the lord become evident, in abundance.

Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." (Mk. 10.13, 1952, p. 23)

It is within this process of gestation that hundreds of thousands of errors can be made by the body, the genes or other outside forces, and within those potential glitches there are a multitude of manifestations that can become apparent within the development of the fetus and later the child. Within this process there are many points where there is proof of the divine plan, because so many things can go wrong and statistically they rarely do. Yet, despite the intentions of the divine plan, within this process the actions of the mother can and often do seriously affect the outcome of the pregnancy.

Morally, it can be seen that the severity of the failing of the individual is great when he or she endangers their own body for the purpose of enjoyment, be it with alcohol or other drugs. Yet, it must also be said that the moral implications of endangering the innocent through such destructive and counter productive behaviors, can and should be seen as a grave sin. We are given through our duty to God a duty to all living things and most importantly a protective role over innocents who cannot in any way protect themselves from the evil doings of others. It is for this reason that the medical community must give serious consideration to the problem of drug use during pregnancy and the serious effects it can have on children, and society at large. It is only through the denial of one's true nature that the individual succumbs to the evils of this world and without teaching and awareness issues such as these will only increase in frequency and severity.

There is nowhere that this is truer than with drug and alcohol use by the mother during fetal development. "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." (1 Cor. 12.19, 1952, p. 190) There are so many crucial stages delineated within development that determine the overall outcome of the pregnancy and the health of the baby. "The adverse effects on babies during pregnancy are deemed to be high for cannabis, very high for nicotine, weak for caffeine and very high for alcohol, cocaine and heroin." (Amar, 2001, p. 21) It is because of this that the impact of drug and/or alcohol use and several other less determined exposures to environmental toxins can have such an extreme and devastating effect on the development of the child in the short-term and the long-term. In fact the statistical difficulty that teenagers experience with fetal development has largely been blamed upon the immoderate use of alcohol and other drugs during gestational development, though it is clear that an underdeveloped body does play a large part in the problems. (Craig & Baucum 2002, pg. 126)

Additionally, the amount of toxin exposure, a toxin must reach a certain threshold level to cause abnormalities, the gestational stage and the general health of the mother are important factors in how teratogen's (any toxin that may cause gestational abnormalities) effect fetal development and later childhood development. (Craig and Baucum 2002, pg. 129) Though the general rule is that small amounts of toxins can be broken down by a healthy mother and therefore isolated from the fetus there are cases where at certain gestational periods even very small amounts of some toxins do serious fetal damage. (Craig and Baucum 2002, pgs. 129-130)

The variety of environmental factors that can adversely affect prenatal development is staggering. Drugs, disease, hormones, blood factors, radiation, exposure to toxins in the work place...Some drugs and other chemicals can be turned into waste products and be eliminated by the mother's mature body but not by the embryo or fetus... From this perspective, almost no drug or chemical-even normally harmless substance such as aspirin-is entirely safe during pregnancy (Craig and Baucum 2002, pg. 130)

This is of coarse especially true of illicit drugs, whose content is largely unknown, in some cases and may contain very disruptive and variable chemicals that can seriously effect the development of the fetus or embryo. Drugs like, cocaine, marijuana, and narcotics like codeine, morphine, heroin, dilaudid and methadone have been known to cause serious malformations in children born of women who have used these substances during pregnancy. (Craig and Baucum 2002, pgs. 135-136) On the subject of Marijuana, amidst the public debate about it safe use is a clear indication that the implications of its use can be very detrimental during pregnancy.

Documents show that taking large doses of cannabis during pregnancy can affect the fetus as well as the baby by the following effects: death of the fetus, premature birth, a decrease in weight, malformed organs, heart toxicity, retarded growth, mental retardation and a weakening of the immune system.

(Amar, 2001, p. 21)

Of coarse one of the most significant issues with regard to these illicit drugs is the treatment of fetal withdrawal from the substances once the child is removed from the intra-uterine drug exposure. The long-term neurological effects are less understood but clearly provable.

Cocaine is highly soluble in water and lipids and quickly crosses placental and blood-brain barriers (Tronick & Beeghly, 1992). Furthermore, cocaine can affect the fetus directly by acting on the central nervous system and indirectly by changing the fetal environment due to drug effects on the mother (Behnke & Eyler, 1993; Tronick & Beeghly, 1992). Cocaine use during pregnancy may result in premature labor, abruptio placentae, and decreased placental blood flow (Behnke & Eyler, 1993; Fox, 1994).

(Sherman, Sanders & Trinh, 1998, p. 17)

The effects of narcotic use are equally devastating, though possibly not in the numbers as those associated with Cocaine, because of the limited availability of narcotics, in comparison to cocaine derivatives. In a comprehensive study of prenatal drug use children were followed through three groups, a non-drug prenatal use group, a drug rehab group and a drug use group and the results were significant:

The results of a MANOVA for the infants' physical measurements were also significant. ANOVAs and Bonferroni't tests indicated that infants in the drug rehab and nondrug groups had superior scores on head circumference and pediatric complications. Thus, at 6 months, the drug rehab group was doing significantly better than the drug control group and was approximating the nondrug group on several measures.

(Field et al., 1998)

Though the effects of legal prescription drugs can be equally lethal to embryonic and fetal development, illicit drugs are particularly devastating because their consumption is not monitored by a medical professional and almost nothing can be done to curtail their effects, leaving the medical world with little options other than to treat the, sometimes extreme symptoms of the child after birth. Also, what would seem innocuous over the counter medication can also effect fetal development significantly. (Craig and Baucum 2002, pg. 132)

Finally probably the most problematic of all drugs used during pregnancy is alcohol. Alcohol, used in excess during pregnancy makes abnormalities very likely yet it is not known just how much is excessive and just when during fetal development it is most dangerous. Research conducted all over the world has found that even moderate alcohol use can cause malformations in the child. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome has been found in cases where even mild alcoholic consumption was present during certain gestational periods, though is a much more likely occurrence when alcohol consumption is considered excessive. (Craig and Baucum 2002, pg. 132) it has become recognized that alcohol consumption in doses not generally associated with alcohol problems can produce a variety of neurocognitive deficits in the absence of effects on growth and morphology (Baer et al., 1998). Offspring of women who drink during pregnancy appear to have a continuum of neurobehavioral, morphological and developmental effects.

(Hill, Lowers, Locke-Wellman & Shen, 2000, p. 661)

Perhaps the real danger of alcohol use during pregnancy is the general assumption that because it is legal it is not a drug, yet this is clearly not the case and it does cause serious and sometimes permanent problems for children born of women who drank alcohol during their pregnancy. The same can be said for smoking cigarettes, which have been shown to greatly increase the risk for low birth weight babies and babies with intrauterine growth retardation. In fact there is research that suggests that very little is known about the long-term effects of the used of alcohol and cigarettes during pregnancy. One study suggests that there is a correlation…[continue]

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