Is It Safe to Take Tramadol While Pregnant?

Pregnancy can be a stressful time for many women, causing a variety of physical and physiological pains. Changing hormones can alter a woman’s mood and cause headaches, backaches and other debilitating pregnancy pains. For this reason, some expectant mothers opt to take prescription painkillers during pregnancy. However, many popular pain-relieving drugs are opioids, a class of highly addictive substances that includes tramadol.

Tramadol is an opioid pain-reliever prescribed to people who suffer from moderate to severe pain, typically from a surgery or injury. Though it contains less opioid content than other prescription drugs — such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine — it is still as addictive, and should be used with caution, especially during pregnancy. For women who wonder “Can you take tramadol while pregnant?” prenatal tramadol use can pose serious health risks to both a mother and her unborn baby.

Taking tramadol while pregnant

What Is Tramadol?

Frequently prescribed to relieve post-surgical pain, tramadol is a powerful opioid pain medication. It may also be prescribed to patients who struggle with pain from chronic illnesses, including fibromyalgia, arthritis and cancer. Like all opioids, tramadol works to relieve physical pain by binding to the brain’s opioid receptors and triggering the flow of dopamine. Taking tramadol requires a prescription from a medical professional, but even when used as directed, tramadol can still influence a substance use disorder. Even at the recommended dosage, tramadol can have an array of side effects including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Depression
  • Itchiness or rash
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Nausea
  • Severe headaches
  • Weight changes
  • Confusion

These side effects can worsen if a woman develops a tramadol use disorder. Severe side effects are one of the risks of taking tramadol while pregnant and could be life-threatening to a mother and her unborn baby.

How Can Tramadol Affect Your Baby?

The Food and Drug Administration categorizes drugs on their level of safety during pregnancy, ranging from category “A” (drugs that pose no risks to fetuses) to category “X” (drugs that are proven to cause birth defects). Along with all opioid drugs, tramadol falls into category “C,” meaning that there is not enough data to assess the safety of the drug during pregnancy. While inconclusive and unclear, this labeling means that tramadol and pregnancy might not be the best combination.

It is recommended that women avoid taking tramadol while pregnant and consult their physicians for healthier alternatives to tramadol while pregnant. Tramadol is as addictive to a developing fetus as it is for the expectant mother. Consistent use of this drug, even at its lowest dose, increases the likelihood of neonatal drug dependence. Following discontinuation of the drug, babies may exhibit withdrawal symptoms up to one month after birth if left untreated. Given that the first few months of pregnancy are crucial to a baby’s growth, taking tramadol while pregnant can cause a variety of issues for a newborn upon birth.

Tramadol Use and Breastfeeding

Tramadol, like some medications, can be excreted into breast milk. There is not enough substantial evidence that advises mothers not to nurse their babies since traces of the drug are small. However, consuming high doses of tramadol through breast milk poses health risks to the baby. Doctors recommend monitoring breastfeeding infants for signs of:

  • Increased sleepiness
  • Sedation
  • Difficulty breastfeeding
  • Limpness
  • Difficulty breathing

Prior to breastfeeding, consult with a physician on the safety implications of tramadol and possible alternatives.

Risks of taking tramadol while pregnant

Risks of Taking Tramadol While Pregnant

Using opioids, like tramadol, during pregnancy can harm a growing fetus in many ways. Opioid misuse from one month before conception to three months after conception may raise a baby’s risk of experiencing painful conditions like:

  • Hydrocephalus: a buildup of fluid in the brain that can lead to problems walking, urinary incontinence and progressive mental decline
  • Gastroschisis: a birth defect that can cause an infant’s intestines to fall outside of their body through a hole in the abdomen
  • Hypoplastic: a birth defect that inhibits the left side of the heart from pumping oxygen-rich blood to the infant’s body

In general, opioid use during pregnancy may increase the risk of:

  • Spontaneous abortion
  • Low birth weight
  • Preeclampsia
  • Premature rupture of membranes

With these risks in mind, if an expectant mother asks her doctor, “Can I take tramadol while pregnant?” the answer will depend on whether the benefits outweigh the risks of taking tramadol while pregnant. The answer might also vary depending on how far along the mother is in her pregnancy. Ultimately, before a woman chooses to take opioid pain-relievers like tramadol during pregnancy, the mother’s health must be considered alongside the potential risks to her unborn baby.

Babies Born Addicted to Tramadol

Taking tramadol while pregnant can lead to the development of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). This condition occurs when an expectant mother consumes opioids, like tramadol, especially in the final months of her pregnancy. NAS can develop in babies whose mothers took large amounts of tramadol to ease prenatal pain, or who were addicted to opioids during their pregnancy. In either scenario, prenatal opioid use can cause a baby to be born addicted to drugs and experience severe withdrawal symptoms upon birth. As they can be severe, NAS symptoms often require immediate medical attention and can include:

  • High-pitched crying
  • Excessive sweating
  • Seizures
  • Irritability
  • Jitteriness
  • Abnormal muscular activity

In addition to these painful symptoms, NAS may be responsible for low birth weight, heart defects and various developmental challenges. However, NAS isn’t the only consequence of prenatal opioid use. Babies who are born addicted to opioids like tramadol also face a greater risk of developing a neural tube birth defect if their mother took tramadol during the first two months of her pregnancy. Given these risks, it’s imperative for women who are addicted to opioids to seek treatment before they plan a pregnancy, or if they are pregnant, to try natural remedies for pain while pregnant.

Alternatives to taking tramadol while pregnant

Alternatives to Taking Tramadol While Pregnant

Because prenatal opioid use can be detrimental for an unborn baby, many women might turn to the internet and search for answers to “What are some alternatives for pain while pregnant?”

In comparison to tramadol use, it may seem reasonable and safe to take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (the main ingredient in Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (active ingredient in Aleve) during pregnancy. Although not as dangerous as opioids, these over-the-counter drugs should also be avoided by expectant mothers as they may increase the risk of birth defects and miscarriage.

As it is generally unwise to use opioids like tramadol and NSAIDs during pregnancy, women should instead seek out natural remedies for pain while pregnant. Whether a woman struggles with headaches, back pain, sciatica or muscle cramps during pregnancy, there are always natural remedies for pain while pregnant that are safer than tramadol or over-the-counter drugs. These can include:

  • Using a heating pad
  • Taking warm baths
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Engaging in light exercise
  • Investing in massage therapy
  • Attending prenatal yoga classes

If you are pregnant or plan to conceive a child soon, talk with your doctor or obstetrician about effective alternatives to tramadol while pregnant. If you are not pregnant and struggle with an addiction to tramadol, The Recovery Village can help you find the healing you deserve. Call The Recovery Village today to speak with someone who can answer your questions about rehab and guide you toward a program that meets your needs.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.