Fentanyl, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Mothers preparing for childbirth may grapple with the idea of using pain medication prior to and during delivery. While the decision to use medication during pregnancy is not uncommon, expectant mothers should know the risks some prescriptions pose to their unborn babies. This is especially true for common pain relievers like fentanyl.

Fentanyl is one of the strongest opioid pain relievers available for medical treatment. The drug is 60 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. Although the drug is fast-acting, the effects last no more than 45 minutes at a time. Because of its potency, fentanyl can be highly addictive and extremely dangerous. Even when prescribed from a physician in small amounts, this drug can be fatal. In unprescribed doses, mothers can pose danger not only to themselves, but also to the health of their babies.

Fentanyl, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Anything a mother consumes while pregnant passes to her baby through the placenta. This is important to remember when taking any medication, especially during the first trimester and during labor. Babies experience just as many adverse effects from pain medication as mothers can. Any outside influences could negatively affect growing babies during the first trimester because the first few months are crucial to their development.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classified fentanyl as a Category C drug regarding its safety of use during pregnancy. All medications are given safety ratings to prevent mothers from posing risks to their babies. The drug classifications range from Category A — indicating no risk or harm to babies during pregnancy — to Category X — indicating extreme risk of birth anomaly and harm to a developing fetus during pregnancy.

Category C lies in the middle, indicating that while the medication may carry benefits for the mother, the benefits do no outweigh the potential harm it may cause to the child. There is also not enough research to support the drug’s safety, therefore fentanyl should only be used if there is no alternative to treatment.

Though the safety of this drug is still being researched, it does have the ability to pass through breast milk. When administered through an epidural or intravenously during labor, smaller amounts of fentanyl can pass to the baby. Fentanyl may not pose high risks during breastfeeding if taken in small amounts.

Excess fentanyl use can increase the amount found in breast milk. Doctors recommend avoiding breastfeeding infants until mothers have fully recovered from the drug’s effects. If babies show any of the following symptoms following being breastfed, contact a physician immediately:

  • Difficulty feeding
  • Respiratory issues
  • Limpness
  • Increased sleepiness
  • Drowsiness
Fentanyl is extremely effective and directly affects how the brain responds to pain. At high doses, fentanyl can dangerously increase the risk of overdose and death. Frequent use of fentanyl during pregnancy can not only result in addiction in the mother, but also neonatal abstinence syndrome in the baby.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome, or neonatal withdrawal, includes a group of harmful symptoms a baby experiences as a result of substantial drug exposure. Some of the common symptoms include:

  • Sedation
  • Jiterriness
  • Tremors
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Trouble feeding

Other than withdrawal symptoms, continued fentanyl abuse can also cause damaging and sometimes irreversible developmental delays. Other common side effects of maternal fentanyl use include:

  • Respiratory depression
  • Neurological depression
  • Seizures
  • Birth anomalies
  • Damage to the placenta
It is important to take all the proper precautions when preparing for delivery and ensuring your baby’s health. Prior to taking medication, consult with a licensed physician on the risks they may pose. If the benefits do not outweigh the risks, consider seeking alternative treatment for pain or therapy to help maintain stress. A healthy mother is necessary to produce a healthy baby.

If you or someone you know is struggling with fentanyl addiction, or if you are concerned your baby is being affected from prescribed medication, there are resources available to help you. Consult with The Recovery Village and our trained team of medical professionals to find the best treatment option to suit your needs. Don’t wait another day to secure a healthier future today.

Fentanyl, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
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Fentanyl, Pregnancy and Breastfeeding was last modified: July 7th, 2017 by The Recovery Village