Prenatal cocaine exposure
Prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE) occurs when a pregnant woman uses cocaine and thereby exposes her fetus to the drug. ""Crack baby"" was a term coined to describe children who were exposed to crack (freebase cocaine in smokable form) as fetuses; the concept of the crack baby emerged in the US during the 1980s and 1990s in the midst of a crack epidemic. Early studies reported that people who had been exposed to crack in utero would be severely emotionally, mentally, and physically disabled; this belief became common in the scientific and lay communities. Fears were widespread that a generation of crack babies were going to put severe strain on society and social services as they grew up. Later studies failed to substantiate the findings of earlier ones that PCE has severe disabling consequences; these earlier studies had been methodologically flawed (e.g. with small sample sizes and confounding factors). Scientists have come to understand that the findings of the early studies were vastly overstated and that most people who were exposed to cocaine in utero do not have disabilities.No specific disorders or conditions have been found to result for people whose mothers used cocaine while pregnant. Studies focusing on children of six years and younger have not shown any direct, long-term effects of PCE on language, growth, or development as measured by test scores. PCE also appears to have little effect on infant growth.However, PCE is associated with premature birth, birth defects, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other conditions. The effects of cocaine on a fetus are thought to be similar to those of tobacco and less severe than those of alcohol. No scientific evidence has shown a difference in harm to a fetus of crack and powder cocaine.PCE is very difficult to study because it very rarely occurs in isolation: usually it coexists with a variety of other factors, which may confound a study's results. For example, pregnant mothers who use cocaine often use other drugs in addition, or they may be malnourished and lacking in medical care. Children in households where cocaine is abused are at risk of violence and neglect, and those in foster care may experience problems due to unstable family situations. Thus researchers have had difficulty in determining which effects result from PCE and which result from other factors in the children's histories.