The behavior differences weren’t overwhelming, but lead researcher Linda LaGasse, Ph.D., from Brown University’s Center of the Study of Children at Risk, considered them “very worrisome.”
Joseph Frascella, Ph.D., who heads a behavioral division at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said the research is among “groundbreaking” studies investigating the effects of substance abuse during pregnancy. But because the study is a first, he added, the results should be viewed carefully and will need to be repeated.
Similar to crack cocaine, methamphetamine is a stimulant, and previous research has shown that “meth babies” suffer from symptoms similar to “crack babies.” Differences include being smaller in size and being more prone to drowsiness and stress.
But long-term study results conflict on whether children of cocaine-using mothers have long-term behavior problems. And whether problems continue over time in children of meth users is unknown. LaGasse noted that methamphetamine has stronger effects on the brain so meth babies may be more at risk for long-term effects.
For the study, 330 high-risk children were followed from ages 3 to 5. They had been recruited by LaGasse for earlier research in which mothers from Des Moines, Honolulu, Los Angeles and Tulsa participated shortly after giving birth.
Mothers reported any prenatal meth use and newborns’ stools were tested for evidence of the drug. Effects in children exposed to the drug were compared with those who were not.
At age 3, scores for anxiety, depression and moodiness were slightly higher in the children of meth users, and these differences continued at age 5. Older children whose mothers had used meth exhibited more aggression and attention problems similar to ADHD.
More than half of mothers who had used meth during pregnancy also used it after pregnancy. These women also were more likely to use other drugs as well and to be single mothers. However, the researchers said that adjusting for those factors and others didn’t change the results.
The study is published online in Pediatrics. The National Institutes of Health paid for the research, including a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse