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Dr. Shah:Research on Neonatal Meth Exposure

Dr. Rizwan Shah (see biography) shared her research findings concerning the impact of prenatal Meth exposure and the medical effects on children when Meth is used in their homes.  The following are excerpts from an interview published in the Spring 2006 edition of The Source, published by the National Abandoned Infants Assistance Resource Center, University of California, Berkeley.

A Brief Description of Dr. Shah’s Research:

“In 1998, I received a small grant from NIDA to look at the outcomes of this clinical population (infants prenatally exposed to Meth)…In addition, I am part of a four-site national study through Brown University.”
“The data from our clinic are based on 109 kids extrapolated from…more than 500.  Of the 109, 61 were Meth exposed.”

Most Critical Findings of the Studies Include:

Maternal characteristics:



  • 40% of mothers using Meth do not get any prenatal care, compared to 22% of mothers using crack cocaine.
  • About 16% of the Meth using group had nutritional problems (anemia, poor weight gain, etc.) which was lower than expected.
  • About 34% of the Meth using pregnant women had acute illnesses requiring a doctor’s care.

Key Findings for Children


  • 19% of the children born to Meth using mothers were small for gestational age; their head size was also small.
  • 25% of Meth exposed babies were born prematurely.
  • 34% of newborns exposed to Meth had feeding problems (compared to 9% of crack cocaine exposed babies) related to coordination problems with suckling and swallowing.
  • About 20% of Meth exposed babies displayed muscle tone problems, including poor, disorganized quality of movement.
  • Current research also identifies differences in Meth exposed children’s cry patterns, potentially indicating neurotoxic effects of the exposure.  More research needs to be done on this aspect of the babies’ behavior.

Longer Term Outcomes

  • Developmental screenings in the first five years of life show that Meth exposed babies, as well as cocaine exposed children, tend to have an abnormality or delay in one of the four main domains: gross motor, fine motor, language and social skills.   
  • A majority of children exposed to Meth achieved their developmental milestones within the normal range. When they reached six to eight months of age, they were indistinguishable from non-drug exposed children. 
  • The home environment for children whose parent(s) continue to use Meth is a huge factor in long-term outcomes.  A majority of these children experience neglect, malnutrition, potential physical abuse, and exposure to inappropriate material (pornography).  In spite of normal cognitive ability, environmental exposure to drugs, violence and abuse will effect the child’s academic and social functioning.

Effective Interventions

The primary interventions for Meth exposed babies focus on educating caregivers in understanding and managing behavioral symptoms. Intervention may also be needed to address specific issues, including feeding, speech or muscle tone concerns.  

Hopeful Conclusions

As a group, Meth exposed children are similar to children exposed to other drugs.  Their problems are fixable and short lived.  Overall, environmental factors contribute much more than prenatal drug exposure to the child’s developmental outcomes.