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The “crack babies” scare of the 1980s may have been overblown, a new study suggests. A new review published May 27 in Pediatrics finds little proof of any major long-term ill effects in children whose mothers used cocaine during pregnancy. In the 1980’s, when crack use was at its highest, the “crack baby” scare was a subject of research and talk.

At the time, studies blamed brain damage on prenatal drug use and predicted that the babies would have developmental issues. These reports led to widespread media coverage featuring images of newborns hooked up to hospital machines.

While some studies researchers looked at for the new review linked pregnant women’s cocaine use with children’s behavior difficulties, attention problems, anxiety and worse school performance, the effects were mostly small and may have resulted from other factors including family problems or violence, parents’ continued drug use and poverty, the researchers said.

For the review, led by University of Maryland pediatrics researcher Dr. Maureen Black, researchers looked at 27 earlier studies involving more than 5,000 11- to 17-year-olds whose mothers had used cocaine while pregnant. The studies all involved low-income, mostly black and urban families.

From CBS News:

In some of the studies, crack-exposed teens had lower scores on developmental tests than other children but their scores were still within normal limits. Many studies found that the children’s family environment or violence were directly related to the teen’s performance regardless of whether their mothers had used cocaine during pregnancy, the researchers said. Studies that tracked children beyond infancy failed to find any severe outcomes.

“The field of prenatal cocaine exposure has advanced significantly since the misleading ‘crack baby’ scare of the 1980s,” the review authors said.

In recent years experts have mostly discounted any link, noting that so-called crack babies often were born prematurely, which could account for many of their early symptoms.

The government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that it’s tough to evaluate how drug use during pregnancy affects children’s development because so many other factors play a role, including prenatal care, mothers’ health and family environment.

The March of Dimes estimates that about 4 percent of pregnant women use illicit drugs like cocaine, marijuana and amphetamines. The organization also adds pregnant women who use illicit drugs are also more likely to use alcohol and tobacco, which also pose health risks to an unborn baby.

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  • I think it is safe to say that it _was_ overblown. The original study that caused the “crack baby” hysteria was only based on like, 26 babies. Here is an interesting video from the New York Times that talks about how things went wrong in more detail.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWtLAfw1Ses&NR=1&feature=endscreen

    It is important to point out that they do these things with all drugs, the current target being meth. It would appear that maybe they don’t actually care too much about the color of the inmates (since meth seems to be more of a rural white thing,) just getting the bodies in the beds, so they can make that MONEY.

  • JS

    Sorry but I don’t see the point of that research. Regardless of whether the effects of crack were exaggerated or not, drug use while pregnant should be a no brainier of something not to do. Even if its for the simple fact your baby might be born prematurely.

    “The government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that it’s tough to evaluate how drug use during pregnancy affects children’s development because so many other factors play a role, including prenatal care, mothers’ health and family environment.”

    So does this give people a free pass to abuse drugs during pregnancy?? Not quite sure what the point is here….

    • Ok, I thought I was the only one who doesn’t see the point of this. So there were less “crack” babies than we thought. And? That’s still a very bad thing.

  • ” the effects were mostly small and may have resulted from other factors including family problems or violence, parents’ continued drug use and poverty, the researchers said.”

    And crack has nothing to do with this?

    “In some of the studies, crack-exposed teens had lower scores on developmental tests than other children but their scores were still within normal limits”

    Lower scores…..but within normal limits.

    Reading between the lines the new study doesn’t refute the old, crack may not have a long term physical effect on children but the environment that allows it’s existence and impacts these kids does.

    I guess the study is saying “a little crack don’t hurt nobody”, just like wine a pregnant woman can have a little hit every now and then.

  • dbsm

    I didn’t read the link; but this information is not new. I guess maybe it is getting more press.

    Listen: drugs are drugs are drugs. If you have a baby in the hospital, chances are you have been given drug after drug–drugs of which we do not know the long-term effects. And yet, mothers are given them repeatedly and on a regular basis without regards to even the potential immediate consequences (decreased fetal movement, decreased breathing, increase in heart rate, higher risk of c-section). And yet we have women being admonished for having marijuana in their systems!!!!

    Pick your poison…

    • What other drugs are pregnant women being given besides prenatal vitamins and an epidural?

    • pitocin, ambien, percoset, cytotec are just four that come to mind off the top of my head…

    • Ok thank you.I looked up the uses of these drugs and found that they are used only to help pregnant women get thru their pregnancy easier (helping them to sleep,soothing pain, inducing labor).I don’t see how someone can put a drug (that is being monitored under doctor supervison) and one that is used out of necessity in the same class as a street drug like crack.Its apples and oranges.

    • dbsm

      “I don’t see how someone can put a drug (that is being monitored under doctor supervison) and one that is used out of necessity in the same class as a street drug like crack.Its apples and oranges.”

      its not apples and oranges. if you are really interested, start doing a little research on the topic:

      the effects of

      antibiotics
      drugs that augment labor
      analgesics
      c section drugs

      …on pregnant women, fetus, and neonate

      there is an entire movement seemingly unbeknownst to you. trust your doctor all you want…in this litigious society, people need to look out for their own best interests instead of putting it in the hands of “professionals.”

      and thank u to the other commentor who responded.

    • I’m not saying that ppl should blindly trust any old doctor but I do feel that a woman who consults a doctor when she is in need of a drug is different than a woman who carelessly uses crack or any other street drug.Consulting a doctor (even if its about whether its safe to use a Tylenol) or doing a little bit of research on what’s safe and what isn’t (as you suggested) Atleast shows concern for the health of the baby.These drugs are not being taken just for fun (to get a fix) it’s out of necessity (ex.pain).I don’t have anything against doing a little further research on a drug before using it.Im just saying that there is clearly a diff. level of care being shown toward the baby.

    • Also, prescribed drugs are used in moderation so that (with care) a woman can have a perfectly healthy baby.There is no safe way to use crack or heroin while pregnant.No doctor worth anything would say its ok to use either at all.

  • This “study” is ridiculous. It was definitely NOT overblown. Here in NY alone, the amount of children born in that era raised by their grandmother (because of course, mom was on crack), in the child services system, in the prison system, having trouble and giving trouble in school is out of control. Those “crack babies” are now in their 20’s and I’d like to see a study that observed a larger group of them now as adults and recorded the struggles they went through as children, teens and now adults. Let’s not downplay recreational drug use during pregnancy.