In the United States, 20.9 percent of pregnant teens age 15 to 17 reported past-month use of an illicit drug (based on combined data from 2010-2011). Scientists have found that exposure to cocaine during fetal development may lead to subtle but significant deficits later in life, including problems with attention and information processing—abilities that are important for success in school. Research is also underway on the effects of methamphetamine use during pregnancy. So far, the data suggest that it may affect fetal growth and contribute to poor quality of movement in infants.
Research in this area is particularly difficult to interpret because it is often hard to single out a drug’s specific effects among the multiple factors that can all interact to affect maternal, fetal, and child outcomes. These factors include exposure to all drugs of abuse, including nicotine and alcohol; extent of prenatal care; possible neglect or abuse of the child; exposure to violence in the environment; socioeconomic conditions; maternal nutrition; other health conditions; and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases.