If you’re pregnant, your health questions get more complex: you’re not just caring for yourself, you’re also caring for your baby. It’s why most products end their commercials with, “If you’re pregnant or may become pregnant, ask your doctor if (x product) is right for you.” Your body is changing, and so is the way you treat it. That includes your opioid addiction treatments.
But what should you know about how opioid use and opioid treatment impacts pregnancies?
Opioids are drugs which target the body’s pleasure centers and create a physical “high” of intense pleasure. Though heroin and fentanyl are notorious examples, opioids include prescription medication like oxycodone, codeine, and morphine.
Medically-assisted treatments (MATs) are medications that lessen the body’s dependence on opioids. They use opioids like methadone or buprenorphine, but they also include opioid agonists like naltrexone or naloxone. These agonists counteract the risk of addiction, though methadone and buprenorphine have a smaller risk than other opioids. They help your body withstand the painful cravings of addiction, but, when taken with agonists, can help you taper off your need for opioids.
If you’re using opioids before or during your pregnancy, you and your child might both face health risks.
Unsafe opioid use will upset the physical balance your body needs for a successful pregnancy, increasing your risk of pregnancy-related death. It sounds outlandish, but that’s the risk if your opioid use dictates your physical health while you’re pregnant.
There are more dangers for your baby if you misuse opioids, both during the pregnancy and following the birth. They include:
NAS is one of the worst side effects of opioid use during pregnancy. It includes a series of symptoms which occur when a newborn had been exposed to addictive substances in the womb. Because they were exposed at such a vulnerable stage, the newborns experience painful withdrawal once they’re born and can’t access the drugs. Symptoms usually occur 28–72 hours after birth, and they include:
NAS due to opioid use is called Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Symptom (NOWS), and how bad it gets for your newborn depends on your opioid use during the pregnancy.
Now, your doctor may be prescribing opioids to you during your pregnancy, and abruptly stopping those doses can harm you. Consult with your doctor about tapering off your opioid intake. And whatever they recommend to you, make sure you take no more and no less than they direct.
But if you’re misusing opioids (taking them illegally or taking more than your prescription), you likely won’t have any medical supervision. You’ve seen how that risks danger to both your pregnancy and your child. If you suffer addiction to opioids and then become pregnant, you’ll have to take quick action.
Because MATs involve medical opioids like methadone or buprenorphine, they can risk the same harms that we’ve just listed. But, because opioid addiction treatments like MAT involve medical professionals at every step of the way, you might have a better chance of a safe pregnancy and a healthy newborn.
MAT will help you work through your opioid addiction, like we’ve mentioned above. It’s not simply a medication you take on a rigid schedule, though. Addiction professionals guide you through counseling to heal the fears and insecurities that led you to use opioids in the first place. You’ll attend individual therapies as well as peer groups, all while you receive buprenorphine to fight through your physical opioid dependence.
A quick note: MATs often include the drug naloxone or naltrexone, and doctors might withhold this drug if you’re pregnant while taking MATs. It’s just because their effects on pregnant patients aren’t yet well-known.
What matters is that if you begin MAT, or continue it before or during your pregnancy, you must consult your doctor as often as you can. It’s the same concept as taking your prescribed opioids—stick as closely to your treatment plan as you can. It’s designed with your health in mind.
If you’re using opioids and become pregnant, you’ll have to weigh the risks that opioids pose. If they’re prescriptions, consult your doctor to learn exactly how you should continue your dosage or begin tapering off. The same goes for medically-assisted treatment for opioid addiction—bear the risks in mind, but stick closely to what your doctor recommends.
But if you’re suffering from addiction to opioids, now would be the time to begin recovery treatment. You might still face risks, but you’ll be under medical supervision throughout your pregnancy. Without recovery treatment, you’ll face the risks without the safety net.
You can begin looking for treatment (for yourself or a loved one) here at Buprenorphine Doctors, where we have directories for both opioid treatment centers and opioid addiction doctors. And if you have more questions about treatment and recovery, we have a few answers. Visit the site today and learn the steps you can take towards recovery from opioid addiction.