Prenatal cocaine exposure not linked to bad behavior in kids

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Toddlers exposed to cocaine before birth exhibit no more behavioral problems than other children their age, despite early predictions that "crack babies" would grow up to be delinquents, University of Florida researchers say.

Studying 3-year-olds exposed to crack and powder cocaine in the womb and a similar group of children who were not, UF researchers found that disruptive behaviors in children actually seem to be linked more closely to maternal depression than prenatal cocaine exposure.

"In all of the various outcomes we have looked at, people have expected very bad things," said Tamara D. Warner, Ph.D., a postdoctoral associate in the UF College of Medicine and lead author of the study. "These dire predictions were made about this group of kids. This study shows there really aren't the huge problems that we might expect."

The researchers found that mothers, on average, reported a high number of symptoms of depression, regardless of whether they used cocaine during pregnancy, according to findings published this month in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Biological mothers also tended to report more behavioral problems than nonmaternal caregivers and foster parents, who were caring for about half the cocaine-exposed children by the time they reached 3.

"One might have expected that caregivers who took on children with prenatal cocaine exposure would've expected (more problems) and reported a higher number of problems," Warner said. "But that wasn't the case."

The researchers studied 256 children, about half of whom were exposed to cocaine before birth. Most of their mothers were poor and black and lived in rural North Central Florida.

Poverty could explain why many of these mothers showed signs of depression, and in turn, depression could explain why mothers of cocaine-exposed and non-exposed children tended to report more behavioral problems, such as hyperactivity and impul

Contact: April Frawley Birdwell
University of Florida

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