Prenatal drug exposure: Infant and toddler outcomes

Emmalee S. Bandstra, Connie E. Morrow, Elana Mansoor, Veronica H. Accornero

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


This manuscript provides an overview of the current scientific literature on the impact of maternal drug use, specifically opioids and cocaine, during pregnancy on the acute and long-term outcomes of infants and toddlers from birth through age 3 years. Emphasis with regard to opioids is placed on heroin and opioid substitutes used to treat opioid addiction, including methadone, which has long been regarded as the standard of care in pregnancy, and buprenorphine, which is increasingly being investigated and prescribed as an alternative to methadone. Controlled studies comparing methadone at high and low doses, as well as those comparing methadone with buprenorphine, are highlighted and the diagnosis and management of neonatal abstinence syndrome is discussed. Over the past two decades, attention of the scientific and lay communities has also been focused on the potential adverse effects of cocaine and crack cocaine, especially during the height of the cocaine epidemic in the United States. Herein, the findings are summarized from prospective studies comparing cocaine-exposed with non-cocaine-exposed infants and toddlers with respect to anthropometric growth, infant neurobehavior, visual and auditory function, and cognitive, motor, and language development. The potentially stigmatizing label of the so-called crack baby preceded the evidence now accumulating from well-designed prospective investigations that have revealed less severe sequelae in the majority of prenatally exposed infants than originally anticipated. In contrast to opioids, which may produce neonatal abstinence syndrome and infant neurobehavioral deficits, prenatal cocaine exposure appears to be associated with what has been described as statistically significant but subtle decrements in neurobehavioral, cognitive, and language function, especially when viewed in the context of other exposures and the caregiving environment which may mediate or moderate the effects. Whether these early findings may herald more significant learning and behavioral problems during school-age and adolescence when the child is inevitably confronted with increasing social and academic challenges is the subject of ongoing longitudinal research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-258
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Addictive Diseases
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2010


  • Buprenorphine
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Infant
  • Methadone
  • Pregnancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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