Opiates and Pregnancy

Opiates and Pregnancy

Abusing opiates during pregnancy can lead to health complications for the mother and the child

There is no doubt that opiate addiction is a very serious problem today. If you are pregnant, the health risks are even greater as many health complications are possible both for the mother and the child. Stress is a very common trigger for addiction; so if you have a stressful pregnancy, you are very likely to crave opiates and your use could even escalade. It is essential to understand the risks of opiate use during pregnancy and the benefits of treatment to ensure optimal health of the baby.

Opiate Addiction Risks

The abuse of opiates during pregnancy brings with it many risks to both the mother and the child. The babies of opiate-dependent mothers often present with low birth weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)[1], the use of opioid drugs during pregnancy can also lead to birth defects that include the following:

  • Neural tube defects
  • Hydrocephaly
  • Glaucoma
  • Abdominal wall defects
  • Congenital heart defects

In addition to these defects, newborns of opiate-addicted mothers may experience a condition called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). This is essentially a form of withdrawal that the newborn goes through once he or she is no longer receives opiates through the mother’s blood. When this withdrawal occurs after birth, the newborn can present with a wide variety of symptoms.[2] Some of the most common symptoms of NAS include the following:

  • Tremors
  • Excessive high-pitched crying
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Poor feeding
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Unstable body temperature

The possibility of your baby having these complications can seem overwhelming to an opiate-addicted mother. Fortunately, there are resources available to help. You can choose recovery instead of substance abuse. You can make the decision to improve your baby’s health and wellness.

Recovering While Pregnant

Many people refuse to seek treatment for their addiction once they become pregnant because they fear their baby will be taken away. This fear can also keep pregnant women from seeking the necessary prenatal medical care. While laws vary from state to state regarding maternal addiction, the legal and health outcomes are typically less favorable for those who continue to abuse opiates throughout their pregnancy.

Once you have decided to recover from opiate addiction, discuss treatment options with your healthcare provider. In many cases, you may be encouraged to participate in a methadone or buprenorphine maintenance program for a safe and comfortable recovery. Because these drugs are opioids, it can seem contradictory to use as a treatment for opiate addiction. The benefit of these maintenance programs is that methadone and buprenorphine act chemically in the body in a way that is the same as all other opiates, thus reducing the possibility of withdrawal and cravings. At the same time, these drugs do not cause the same levels of euphoria or sedation that are associated with other opiates.

When you complete a methadone or buprenorphine maintenance program, this can be very beneficial to the health of yourself and to the health of your baby. While the baby may still experience NAS with these programs, the overall risks of newborn complications are greatly diminished with treatment.

Get Help for Opiate Addiction

Please keep in mind that opiate abuse can often lead to complications for both pregnant women and their children. So if you or a loved one has become addicted to opiates, please call our toll-free helpline today. Our professionally trained counselors are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions you might have about opiate addiction treatment.


[1] http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2015/p0122-pregnancy-opioids.html Opioid Painkillers Widely Prescribed Among Reproductive Age Women.

[2] https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007313.htm Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome