Further Reading

Is my adopted baby doomed by her mother’s drug use?


I adopted a lovely baby; she is now four years old. Although at first I noticed she seemed somewhat slow to develop (crawling, rolling over, speaking), it is now clear that she has real developmental problems. I know some things about her birth mother, and these suggest that this mother used drugs. I am afraid I have adopted a crack baby! (I realize that meth amphetamines are frequently the culprit now, rather than crack.) If this is true, I fear that I face a lifetime of problems with my beautiful child.

How likely is it that she is a crack baby? Are the same problems as for crack babies evident in the babies of mothers who used methamphetamines? Lastly, what can I do about it?


Dear Marianne,

I have written extensively about the crack baby myth – that use of crack during pregnancy has permanent effects that mar the baby for life. Although research has never supported such an idea, this myth persists – and is propagated by the media. (See “Why are crack babies so screwed up?”) I periodically update this information.

Finally, in February 2004, a blue-ribbon panel of medical and other researchers released a public letter decrying the continuing use of the term: “we are writing to request that the terms ‘crack baby’ and ‘crack addicted baby’ be dropped from usage. These terms and similarly stigmatizing terms, such as ‘ice babies’ and ‘meth babies,’ lack scientific validity and should not be used.”

The researchers continued: “Throughout almost 20 years of research, none of us has identified a recognizable condition, syndrome or disorder that should be termed ‘crack baby.’ Some of our published research finds subtle effects of prenatal cocaine exposure in selected developmental domains, while other of our research publications do not.”

In another interesting declaration, the group warned equally against using the term “crack-addicted” baby: “Addiction is a technical term that refers to compulsive behavior that continues in spite of adverse consequences. By definition, babies cannot be ‘addicted’ to crack or anything else.”

Children identified with problems stemming from crack us, as I have said repeatedly, are generally suffering from impoverished and other negative environments after birth. Remedial program – but programs that are designed for every child show good benefits for children identified as coming from mothers who used crack heavily.

Moreover, thinking of and labeling your child as a crack baby can itself be harmful. Based on another study of babies of drug-using mothers, the chief investigator, Deborah Frank, of Boston University’s School of Medicine, noted, "This stereotype does as much harm, if not more, to children as the actual physiological impact of prenatal exposure. The negative expectations of these children are in itself very harmful."

Among the dangers of the myth of crack babies, the panel on such children noted, was that child abusers frequently claimed that foster children in their care showed signs of damage (including starvation) because they were actually crack babies, when in fact the children were currently being abused!

According to Frank (who was one of the panel members), children of heavy crack users who received supportive interventions showed better progress than comparable babies whose mothers had not used drugs!

So, the path is clear for you – seek appropriate assistance in addressing your child’s deficiencies. There is nothing – at least as far as her birth mother’s drug use – that will prevent her from forging ahead with proper help.


Frank, D., et al. (2002). Level of Prenatal Cocaine Exposure and Scores on the Bayley Scales of Infant Development: Modifying Effects of Caregiver, Early Intervention, and Birth Weight. Pediatrics, 110, 1143-1152

Lewis, D. et al. (February 25, 2004). Top Medical Doctors and Scientists Urge Major Media Outlets to Stop Perpetuating "Crack Baby" Myth. Press Release, Brown University.