Fetal effects of cocaine: an updated meta-analysis

Reprod Toxicol. Jul-Aug 2001;15(4):341-69. doi: 10.1016/s0890-6238(01)00136-8.


Background: A very large number of women in the reproductive age group consume cocaine, leading to grave concerns regarding the long term health of millions of children after in utero exposure. The results of controlled studies have been contradictory, leading to confusion, and, possible, misinformation and misperception of teratogenic risk.

Objective: To systematically review available data on pregnancy outcome when the mother consumed cocaine.

Methods: A meta-analysis of all epidemiologic studies based on a priori criteria was conducted. Comparisons of adverse events in subgroups of exposed vs. unexposed children were performed. Analyses were based on several exposure groups: mainly cocaine, cocaine plus polydrug, polydrug but no cocaine, and drug free.

Results: Thirty three studies met our inclusion criteria. For all end points of interest (rates of major malformations, low birth weight, prematurity, placental abruption, premature rupture of membrane [PROM], and mean birth weight, length and head circumference), cocaine-exposed infants had higher risks than children of women not exposed to any drug. However, most of these adverse effects were nullified when cocaine exposed children were compared to children exposed to polydrug but no cocaine. Only the risk of placental abruption and premature rupture of membranes were statistically associated with cocaine use itself.

Conclusions: Many of the perinatal adverse effects commonly attributed to cocaine may be caused by the multiple confounders that can occur in a cocaine using mother. Only the risk for placental abruption and PROM could be statistically related to cocaine. For other adverse effects, additional studies will be needed to ensure adequate statistical power.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / epidemiology*
  • Abortion, Spontaneous / chemically induced
  • Abortion, Spontaneous / epidemiology
  • Abruptio Placentae / chemically induced
  • Abruptio Placentae / epidemiology
  • Adult
  • Cocaine / adverse effects*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Fetal Membranes, Premature Rupture / chemically induced
  • Fetal Membranes, Premature Rupture / epidemiology
  • Fetus / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / chemically induced
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology*
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Risk Factors


  • Cocaine