Pregnancy can be extremely emotional for any woman at any time in her life. The choices and responsibilities that go along with being pregnant can be daunting and overwhelming. It becomes even more complicated when drug use and addiction are involved. If you live with an opioid addiction and are continuing with your pregnancy, you may feel an urgent need to stop your drug use. Even if you’re not pregnant, you should know the risks involved with continuing opiate use during pregnancy.

It’s important to know what risks are involved with stopping opiate use during pregnancy, getting help with stopping use or using opiates throughout pregnancy. Here is what you need to know about opioid detox while pregnant.

How Can Opiate Use Affect Pregnant Women and Their Fetus?

Using opiates during pregnancy is dangerous not only for the mother but also for the fetus. If you use during pregnancy, it can cause serious health issues such as premature birth, neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), birth defects, and stillbirth. NAS occurs when a baby is exposed to drugs in the womb before birth and after they are born they experience drug withdrawal. This syndrome most commonly occurs in babies when the mother uses opiates during pregnancy.

While using opiates during pregnancy, they can pass through the placenta and reach the fetus. The placenta grows in the uterus and supplies the fetus with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. NAS can cause issues for your baby like breathing problems, being born small, feeding problems, and seizures. Even if you’re taking prescription opiates as directed by a doctor, your baby is still at risk of developing NAS.

A baby born with NAS can experience withdrawal because they are physically addicted to the drug their mother has been using. Symptoms of NAS include excessive crying, irritability, seizures, slow weight gain, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, tremors and possibly death. The presence of NAS requires hospitalization and treatment with medication to relieve symptoms. Medication is then tapered off until the baby can adjust to living opiate-free.

Can You Detox From Opiates While Pregnant?

It’s important that you tell your healthcare provider right away if you’re pregnant and using any type of opiate. Do not just stop using your opiates. Stopping them cold turkey can cause severe problems for you and your baby. Getting help quitting opiates is your safest and best option. Treatment can help you quit using opiates and is safer than receiving no treatment at all. Fortunately, medication-assisted treatment is safe for you and your baby, and NAS in babies whose mothers obtain medication-assisted treatment during pregnancy is easier to treat.

The medicines used in medication-assisted treatment for pregnant women are methadone and buprenorphine. Methadone was the recommended treatment until 2010 when new research showed that buprenorphine was found to be superior to methadone in reducing opioid withdrawal symptoms in newborns. Even though Methadone is still relatively safe for the fetus, it is still associated with NAS. Buprenorphine has shown a lower severity of NAS symptoms, meaning less hospitalization and less medication is needed for babies after they are born. Methadone maintenance has been used for opioid addiction treatment for over 45 years. When used properly, it can safely and effectively help people stop using heroin and other opiates.

Combined with behavioral therapy, counseling and other support services it enables people to stop using opiates and live a drug-free life. Buprenorphine, a more recent medication approved by the FDA in 2002, has weaker effects than methadone and is less likely to end in overdose. Additionally, it produces a lower level of physical dependence. This quality means mothers using the drug who then discontinue use, will have fewer withdrawal symptoms.

The most important part of detoxing from opiates when you’re pregnant is to do so under the supervision of a medical professional. They will be able to closely monitor your health and the health of the baby to ensure that no one’s life is put at risk. But you don’t want to wait until you give birth to be honest about your drug use. It’s in your best interest to take charge of your life as soon as you know you’re pregnant and limit the adverse effects opiates can have on you and your baby. The physical and emotional discomfort you will experience is temporary and you can go to sleep at night knowing you’ve done what’s best for you and your offspring.

Detoxing from harmful substances is only the first step in recovery from opioid addiction. You will need therapy, new coping mechanisms and other life skills to get you through this time in your life. They can all help you continue to live a drug-free life after your baby is born and opiates have been removed from your system.

Related Topic: Rapid detox

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP
Dr. Sheehy completed his BS in Molecular Biology at the University of Idaho and went on to complete his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Read more
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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.