Guidelines on Opioid Use and Pregnancy

By: Women's Care Staff

Opioid addiction, also known as Opioid Use Disorder, continues to be a major health concern in the United States. Opioid addiction does not discriminate, affecting men and women of all ages. One population particularly at risk of opioid use disorder is pregnant women. Opioid use and pregnancy increase the risk of death by overdose. Because babies absorb the mother’s nutrients from the womb, they can experience withdrawal symptoms as well.

If you take opioids while pregnant or might become pregnant, take note of the following information. In addition, read this fact sheet about pregnant and opioids, or check out this article about taking prescription opioids during pregnancy.

Drugs and pregnancy categories

Physicians can prescribe opioids as medications. They also relieve pain after surgery, dental work or an injury. Furthermore, some common opioids include:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Meperidine
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Oxymorphone
  • Tramadol
  • And others

Heroin is an illegal opioid drug. If you feel unsure about your medications, talk to your doctor.

Why are opioids dangerous for pregnant women?

Opioids tend to cause dependency and addiction. Even after stopping opioids, a person may experience severe withdrawal symptoms. When taken during pregnancy, the drugs pass on to the developing baby. Opioid use and pregnancy can lead to serious complications in the baby’s development. In addition, they can cause premature delivery and even stillbirth.

What are the risks for your newborn baby?

The baby stops receiving the opioid drug after birth. Therefore, it may experience withdrawal symptoms. These include tremors, poor feeding, crying, vomiting or sleep problems. We call this condition neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS may last from a few days to a few weeks. Your doctor may offer some treatment, but NAS does not cause lasting physical effects for babies.

Should I stop taking opioids if I’m pregnant?

Doctors do not recommend stopping your medications. Those who do stop tend to be under medical supervision. Opioids withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous as they can affect both you and your baby. Your physician can treat opioid use disorder using medication-assisted treatment (MAT) or opioid-assisted therapy (OAT). This reduces dependency without severe side effects.

Talk to your doctor

If you use opioid pain relievers and are pregnant or might become pregnant, talk to your doctor. You can also schedule an appointment with one of the board-certified obstetricians at Women’s Care. Together, we can help protect the health of you and your baby from increasing drug and pregnancy statistics.

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