Is It Safe to Take Pentobarbital While Pregnant?

Pentobarbital is a drug available under the brand-name Nembutal. Pentobarbital is classified as a barbiturate, and it’s a sedative-hypnotic. Pentobarbital would typically be prescribed for short-term sedation prior to anesthesia being administered. It is sometimes used to reduce pressure in the brain in patients with Reye’s syndrome or traumatic brain injury. Occasionally pentobarbital may be used to induce a coma. It is used in certain countries as part of physician-assisted suicide, and it’s used for euthanasia in veterinary medicine. As with other barbiturates, pentobarbital slows central nervous system and brain activity. Pentobarbital is a powerful sedative, and it shouldn’t be used outside of the direction and supervision of medical professionals.

Side effects of pentobarbital can include confusion, shallow breathing, hallucinations, a slow heart rate or feeling lightheaded. Psychological effects can occur, particularly in older adults. These can include confusion and depression or excitement. Other possible side effects of pentobarbital may include nausea, vomiting and constipation, sleep problems, and loss of balance and coordination. There was a time when barbiturates were widely used. They were frequently prescribed as a sleep aid, but it’s rare that these medicines are prescribed anymore.

There are quite a few risks associated with the use of pentobarbital and other barbiturates. For example, both dependence and tolerance can form to these drugs. Over time, someone using pentobarbital would have to continue increasing how much they took to get the same effects. This can be very dangerous with something that causes respiratory depression. Barbiturates can also affect the kidneys, because of reduced blood flow. The use of certain barbiturates can have damaging effects on the liver and cardiovascular system as well.

So, is it safe to take pentobarbital while pregnant? The answer is no, pentobarbital and other barbiturates shouldn’t be used during pregnancy unless a woman is otherwise advised by her healthcare provider. The side effects of barbiturates are more significant in pregnant women. This is because pregnancy can affect how well the body is able to metabolize and eliminate drugs from the system. The same is true in elderly people who use barbiturates. There can also be negative effects on the fetus when barbiturates like pentobarbital are used during pregnancy. It’s not likely that barbiturates would be used during labor and delivery because of the risks, either. The use of barbiturates during labor and delivery may reduce contractions, which would prolong labor and delay delivery. This could also cause breathing problems in the newborn.

Risks of Taking Pentobarbital While Pregnant

Using pentobarbital can have negative effects on a woman who’s pregnant and her unborn child. Barbiturates like pentobarbital are category D pregnancy drugs in the U.S. This means they shouldn’t be used in most cases. There is an increased risk of certain birth defects related to the use of barbiturates. Cleft lip and cleft palate are more likely to occur with the use of barbiturates, as are neural tube defects affecting the brain and spinal cord. The use of barbiturates during pregnancy increases the likelihood of cardiac abnormalities, as well as certain physical defects like hypertelorism. Hypertelorism is a condition where the eyes are spaced widely apart. There has been some research showing the use of barbiturates during pregnancy can make it more likely a baby will develop brain tumors. It’s also possible using barbiturates while pregnant causes problems with bleeding in a newborn. This is because the use of certain barbiturates blocks vitamin K from reaching the baby. Vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting. A newborn with a Vitamin K deficiency is more likely to experience difficulties with blood clotting and associated complications.

Babies Born Addicted to Pentobarbital

Another risk when a mother uses pentobarbital during pregnancy is the potential for the baby to be born dependent on it. When a baby is born addicted to pentobarbital, they will go through withdrawal more than likely. Barbiturate withdrawal in a newborn can cause a variety of symptoms, some of which can be severe. Neonatal withdrawal symptoms from barbiturates can cause excessive or high-pitched crying, respiratory complications, irritability and problems eating or sleeping. It can also cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea. A baby born addicted to pentobarbital will likely require specialized care in the NICU until the symptoms subside.

Alternatives to Taking Pentobarbital While Pregnant

During pregnancy, a woman should always follow the advice of her healthcare provider. If she recreationally uses barbiturates like pentobarbital, she should speak to her doctor about participation in an addiction treatment program. Otherwise, a doctor wouldn’t likely prescribe the use of pentobarbital during pregnancy. Other sleep aids or sedative-style medications might be used as opposed to barbiturates. Barbiturates are very rarely prescribed or used at this point and more than likely it wouldn’t be an option during pregnancy.

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Medical Disclaimer

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.