Scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine has found that children exposed to cocaine in the womb face serious consequences from the drug, but not in certain critical physical and cognitive areas as previously believed.
Their findings are based on a new comprehensive review of research on the subject.
When a pregnant woman uses cocaine, it can interrupt the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the baby, putting such children at risk for premature birth, low birth weight and many other problems.
The new review of multiple major studies conducted on cocaine-exposed, school-aged children found this negative impact significantly affected children in subtle areas such as sustained attention and self-regulated behaviour.
However, the research showed little impairment directly from cocaine in key areas such as growth, IQ, academic achievement and language functioning.
Many of the children did have low IQ and poor academic and language achievement.
The research suggested, though, that these apparent impairments were often caused by the troublesome home environment that goes along with cocaine use, rather than directly from the cocaine itself.
The developmental areas that the cocaine exposure seemed to directly impact - sustained attention and self-regulated behaviour - could become significantly problematic as children grow into adults.
"Cocaine can disrupt foetal growth and development, but this review tells us that just because a child has been exposed to cocaine, it is not a foregone conclusion that they're going to be in trouble," said senior author Maureen M. Black, professor of paediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
The review is published this month in the journal Paediatrics.