Due to the overwhelming opioid epidemic that has plagued the US since the early 2000s, there has been a dramatic increase in women using both prescription and illicit opioids while pregnant. The number of women with opioid use disorder at delivery quadrupled from 1999 to 2014. In 2018 it was reported that opioid use during pregnancy was as high as 20%.
Learning you are pregnant while having opioid use disorder can be a frightening time, but modern science has made it possible to treat addiction while you are expecting and successfully carry a pregnancy to term. If you wish to have a healthy baby but struggle with opioid addiction, it’s imperative to seek treatment as soon as possible. Untreated opioid use disorder during pregnancy can cause long-term complications, or even be fatal, to an unborn baby and its’ mother.
Risk of Opioid Use during Pregnancy
If you have confirmed that you are pregnant and are actively misusing opioids, there are serious risks of complications. Opioids may cross the placenta and into the fetal nervous system with heavy use. Do not wait to seek treatment for your addiction regardless of your family planning choices as you may suffer from any of the following problems:
Placental Abruption: The placenta can separate from the uterus, most commonly around 25 weeks, causing bleeding, abdominal pain, and very low blood pressure. This can happen if you are experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms.
Preterm Labor: A baby may be born prematurely, sometimes too undeveloped to survive even with the help of modern medicine.
Fetal Growth Restriction: Opioids can affect the development of a fetus as well as its absorption of important nutrients and oxygen flow that support growth in the womb.
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS): The baby suffers from withdrawals upon birth due to the opioids it was exposed to in the womb requiring treatment and with possible lasting health effects.
Stillbirth: With opioid misuse and insufficient prenatal care, a baby may die in the womb late-term putting the mother through a traumatic birth process and carrying the risk of infection.
Other complications may include:
Maternal infections (HIV, HBV, HCV)
There are studies that suggest that babies born with severe NAS can have lasting consequences. A large number of babies born with NAS were significantly more likely to be referred for a disability evaluation and have shown to exhibit various cognitive and developmental delays such as speak or language impairment. While there are still studies being conducted to better understand exactly the kind of long-term effects of NAS, those who are treated for opioid use disorder while in the womb are less likely to suffer from more severe risks during development and delivery.
Treating Opioid Use Disorder During Pregnancy
There are effective, evidence-based medications that can help pregnant women treat their opioid addiction and have been shown to be safe for both mother and baby. These medications, buprenorphine, and methadone, can be given to the expecting mother to reduce the harm of their substance use on the growing fetus. Pre-natal care is still vital while taking these medications as it can ensure the baby is developing properly and receiving all the nutrients it needs. Though some babies may still be born with NAS and be affected by withdrawals when while the mother takes these treatment medications, they will often experience a much less severe case of these symptoms than those who were not treated.
Benefits of MAT during Pregnancy:
Mothers receive additional pre-natal care
HIV, HBV, HCV can be detected, and transmission to baby prevented
Improving overall health of both baby and mother into the future
Lower risk or less severe NAS
Healthier age, weight, and size of baby
Shorter treatment time for baby’s opioid treatment upon birth
It is not recommended to stop opioid use abruptly while pregnant. The severity of withdrawal symptoms can have very serious consequences for both bother and fetus, such as preterm labor, fetal distress, or miscarriage. MAT is a much safer solution with the possibility of safer outcomes.
When entering MAT while pregnant, you will also receive substance use counseling and therapies that can help you through the treatment process. Your service provider will work closely with your OBGYN and doctors who are providing prenatal care. It will be important, to be honest with all medical staff about your compliance with the treatment program as well as any relapse you may experience.
Some women who find themselves pregnant while battling opioid use disorder see it as an opportunity to turn their lives around and seek treatment immediately. With addiction, it’s often difficult to find the strength to want to take care of yourself because of the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness. When there is another life at stake, it can be the push to drive the desire to heal and reach recovery for a brighter and more abundant future.
For more information about our clinics or to begin treatment, contact us today.