April 17, 2012

Fetal Exposure to Meth & Emotional Instability

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Chris Galloway, M.D. By:

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Methamphetamine use during pregnancy affects emotional state of the child later in life

(dailyRx News) What the mother consumes, the fetus consumes. Study shows emotional problems later in life are common among young children whose mothers used methamphetamines while pregnant.

New research looks at kid’s emotional wellbeing after a pregnancy exposed to methamphetamines and discovers they’re having trouble feeling like normal kids.

"Don’t use methamphetamines, especially when pregnant."

Lead author Linda LaGasse PhD., assistant professor of pediatrics at Brown University School of Medicine, ran a study on children who had been exposed to methamphetamines before birth.

Subjects were selected from the Infant Development, Environment, and Lifestyle study, which recorded babies born to mothers who used methamphetamines while pregnant. 3 and 5 years later the same children were contacted to see if the exposure to methamphetamines during pregnancy affected their behavior.

LaGasse was careful to use a control group, who had not been exposed to methamphetamines in the womb. The control group also matched the methamphetamine exposure group in race, birth weight, public health insurance, home environment (violence, abuse, change in guardianship, single parent), age of birth mother, and education.

These matches should help minimize other factors that can contribute to behavior problems.

Interestingly, both the control group and the methamphetamine group had exposed their babies to tobacco, alcohol and marijuana during pregnancy. 330 kids, 166 exposed and 164 from the control, were rated on the Child Behavior Checklist by their parent or guardian.

The test confirmed higher emotional reactivity, depression and anxiety for both 3 and 5 year olds exposed to methamphetamines in the womb. Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder appeared in the 5 year-old group of exposed children. Heavy exposure to methamphetamines, meaning 3 or more days per week, resulted in withdrawn behavior from the children as well.  

While the 3 year old exposed group showed greater levels of these behavioral problems according to their parent(s) or guardian(s) than the control group, the 5 year old exposed group rated higher than the 3 year old exposed group as well.  Suggesting that the emotional behavior problems experienced by prenatal exposure to methamphetamines may not decrease over time, but rather increase. 

It's also notable that the exposed kids were born an average of 5 days earlier than the control group and were on average 1.3 centimeters shorter.

LaGasse concludes that this exposure group should be looked at again over the years to see how their development progresses. 

This study was published in the journal Pediatrics, April 2012. No financial information was given and no conflicts of interest were found.

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Reviewed by: 
Chris Galloway, M.D.
Review Date: 
April 16, 2012

Last Updated:
April 25, 2012