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The Myth of the 1990s 'Crack Baby,' and it's Pandemic-Related Lesson

Leonard Pitts Jr., Tribune Content Agency on

Like crack cocaine, COVID can be easily politicized. The deeply troubled lives of "crack babies" thankfully, never came to pass.

If you missed that era of hyperventilated pronouncements, here is a synopsis.

When crack cocaine first swept through American cities, much concern and social anxiety arose about the long-term impact if women used the drug while pregnant.

A widespread belief (often plied by media) was that children would be born hyper aggressive, they'd fail in school, fracture already struggling families and would be challenged with any number of mental health conditions.

All because their mother's smoked crack before giving birth.

Crack dealers in the '80 s and 90 s preyed on poor Black communities to peddle the stuff, a fact that only ratcheted up the chastising, fear-mongering tones. The war on drugs mentality was a factor too; always ready to lean toward moral preaching and blaming, rather than seeking ways to help mothers with addiction.

 

Forty years later, no one talks about "crack babies" for one reason: they don't exist. The dire life-altering conditions never came to pass.

Longitudinal surveys found that the impact of a mother's usage was slight on the child. Low birth weights and a few points lower I.Q. scores were tracked in some of the children.

But other factors such as poverty, the stress of living in violent neighborhoods, and yes, poor parenting, accounted for many of the issues faced by the children studied. And there were those who did fine, graduating high school, then college and starting their own, healthy families.

Some developmental impacts were overcome as the child aged, and the measurable differences overall weren't large, according to the Maternal Lifestyle Study, a large federally financed program based at Brown University.

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