Neurobehavioral syndromes in cocaine-exposed newborn infants

Child Dev. 1991 Aug;62(4):694-705. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1991.tb01563.x.


The effects of fetal cocaine exposure on newborn cry characteristics were studied in 80 cocaine-exposed and 80 control infants. The groups were stratified to be similar on maternal demographic characteristics and maternal use of other illegal substances and alcohol during pregnancy. The hypothesis was that excitable cry characteristics were related to the direct effects of cocaine, while depressed cry characteristics were related to the indirect effects of cocaine secondary to low birthweight. Structural equation modeling (EQS) showed direct effects of cocaine on cries with a longer duration, higher fundamental frequency, and a higher and more variable first formant frequency. Indirect effects of cocaine secondary to low birthweight resulted in cries with a longer latency, fewer utterances, lower amplitude, and more dysphonation. Cocaine-exposed infants had a lower birthweight, shorter length, and smaller head circumference than the unexposed controls. Findings were consistent with the notion that 2 neurobehavioral syndromes, excitable and depressed, can be described in cocaine-exposed infants, and that these 2 syndromes are due, respectively, to direct neurotoxic effects and indirect effects secondary to intrauterine growth retardation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Birth Weight
  • Body Height
  • Cocaine / adverse effects*
  • Crying*
  • Fetal Growth Retardation / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology


  • Cocaine