Pregnant and Addicted to Opioids

Finding out you are pregnant can be an exciting and emotional time. But what if you’re dealing with an opioid addiction?

This article will help explain how what to do if you’re pregnant and addicted to opioids.

Table of Contents

Drug use or drinking during pregnancy does not only harm you; it harms your unborn child as well. You may be worried about your child’s safety and if you are at risk of having your child taken away when you give birth. This guide will help you understand your choices and guide you in the right direction.

Discontinuing the use of opioids such as fentanyl, heroin, is a vital step in ensuring you have the healthiest pregnancy possible.
Many pregnant women who struggle with addiction hesitate to seek out the prenatal care they need and treatment for their addiction.
Fortunately, there are multiple treatment options for pregnant women who struggle with addiction.

The Effect of Opioid Use on Unborn Children

Substance abuse during pregnancy has increased over the past thirty years. Due to this, about 225,000 infants have prenatal exposure to illicit substances. Research has shown that using substances during pregnancy increases the risk of stillbirth.

When you are pregnant, you are sharing what you eat with your baby and sharing what you smoke, drink, or inject. Using substances like heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol directly affects you and your unborn child.
When a pregnant woman uses drugs or alcohol, the risk of developmental and neurological disabilities in the fetus as it develops increases significantly.

At the same time, the fetus is developing, nutrients and oxygen filter through the placenta. Unfortunately, many drugs and alcohol pass through the placenta as well and affect the baby. This means that anything a pregnant woman takes will affect the fetus as well.

What Should I do if I’m Pregnant and Using?

If you have a substance use disorder and you are pregnant, you may feel like seeing a doctor or medical professional is the last thing you should do in this situation. You may feel shame or guilt for being unable to stop even though you are pregnant.

Addiction rewires your brain to make it extremely difficult to stop, even if you want to. However, a doctor can help you take the right steps to get your addiction under control and keep your child healthy.

If you are pregnant and you have a substance use disorder, the first course of action you should take is talking with a doctor. Your doctor can make sure you get the prenatal care that you need. They can also refer you to treatment options for your substance use disorder.

Being open and honest with your doctor about what you are using is vital in helping them assess how to treat you and your baby properly.

There are effective means of treating your opioid substance abuse disorder such as medical detox. However, this is not always the best choice for those who have been abusing opioids for some time.

Detoxing from opioids while pregnant can be risky and should always be monitored and directed closely by medical professionals. Withdrawal symptoms can harm the fetus as well as the mother. It is important to have a medical professional monitor you in order to ensure you and your unborn child are safe throughout the process.

Under no circumstances should an expectant mother attempt to detox without the guidance and direction of a medical professional.

Can I Stop Using Early in Pregnancy if I Am Addicted to Opioids?

Women should not quickly stop opioids during pregnancy. If usage stops immediately, it can result in many side effects. For example, these effects include preterm labor, fetal distress, or even miscarriage. Getting professional help to quit opiate use is the safest option.

There are multiple treatment options for pregnant women with addiction. The most recommended treatment for pregnant women with an opioid use disorder is to have medication-assisted treatment included in their treatment plan.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a method of treatment that uses medication, counseling, and behavior therapy to treat addiction. This treatment is safe for both you and your baby. The two most common medications for this treatment are methadone and buprenorphine.

Will Treatment Be Safe for My Baby?

Both buprenorphine and methadone are proven to be safe treatments for addiction during pregnancy. A recent study has shown that the use of methadone in treatment can result in higher treatment retention.

However, the use of buprenorphine can result in a lower chance of your baby having neonatal abstinence syndrome, a decreased neonatal treatment time, and less medication needed for neonatal treatment.

Discussing different treatment options with your doctor can help you make the best decision.

Understanding Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Due to Opioid Use During Pregnancy

Infants whose mothers used substances during pregnancy often go through withdrawal after birth. This is referred to as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

This is the most common when a pregnant woman uses opiates. It can also occur when mothers are treated with buprenorphine or methadone during addiction treatment.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome is much less severe when a pregnant woman has been treated for her addiction versus when she is not. The symptoms and severity of the withdrawal symptoms an infant can experience vary.

Some of these symptoms can include:

  • Excessive crying
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Poor feeding
  • Rapid breathing
  • Seizures
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Trembling

Luckily, not all babies will experience withdrawal. Treatment for a newborn baby’s withdrawal symptoms can include swaddling, skin-to-skin contact, and breastfeeding. A baby may also medications for withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, a newborn may need to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for some time. This time can range from a few days to weeks.

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Getting Help in Early Pregnancy Results in Better Outcomes

Not only will getting treatment help you manage your addiction and have a higher chance of your baby staying in your custody, but it will also help improve the overall health of your baby. Treatment can improve infant health in multiple ways. Medication-assisted treatment will stabilize the level of substances in your baby. Getting the proper treatment will help reduce withdrawal after birth. There is also a greater opportunity for your unborn baby to receive prenatal care. Additionally, the long-term health of both mother and baby is greatly improved.

Those who received treatment for their addiction had newborns with a lower risk for and less severe neonatal abstinence syndrome. This results in a shorter treatment time. Also, their age, weight, and head circumference were higher at birth.

Your obstetrician and addiction treatment team will work together to provide the best care for you and your baby during and after pregnancy.

Will My Baby Be Removed From My Custody at Birth if I Don’t Stop Using Drugs?

Arizona, requires medical professionals to report newborns affected by drug or alcohol use to the Department of Child Safety (DCS).

When this is reported, DCS will investigate to determine the safety of the child.
The Department of Child Safety has the authority to take a child into temporary custody if the child is:
A victim or will become a victim of abuse or neglect
Suffering from a serious physical or emotional injury
Physically injured due to living where dangerous or narcotic drugs are being made.
Specifically for newborns born exposed to a substance, the following will be considered when determining if case workers should take them into temporary custody.
Whether or not the parent is participating in the healthy families program
If the parent has services available to prevent the child’s removal and if the parent is participating in these services

Fortunately, the Department of Child Safety has two goals. The first is to keep children safe. The second is to keep families together. If you choose to pursue treatment to stop your substance use that is the first step in ensuring your child can stay with you. You can work with your doctor and the Department of Child Safety to fully understand what you will be responsible for to keep custody of your baby.

If you have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, getting help and stopping the use of these substances is extremely important. By getting help as soon as possible, you can begin the detox and treatment process before your child is born.

Avoiding Relapse after Pregnancy

Many women succeed in staying substance-free throughout their pregnancy. However, after the baby is born, relapse can occur. After your baby is born, the stress of caring for a newborn and sleep deprivation may lead to relapse.

Those who have not gone through a professional treatment program are at higher risk of relapsing after birth.

Having continued support will help you and your baby. There are multiple options available to prevent relapse after giving birth.

These include:

  • Joining and participating in a support group or 12-Step program.
  • Counseling with a therapist.
  • Medication management.
  • Professional rehab treatment.

Admitting you have a problem and pursuing help takes a lot of courage. The choice to pursue addiction treatment can make all the difference between having a healthy baby and either losing a baby or having a child with developmental problems.

Many women fear the consequences of having their substance use revealed but getting treatment is much safer than giving birth to your child while you are addicted. There is hope. You are not alone during this time, and help is just a phone call away.

Substance Abuse While Pregnant or Breastfeeding
Unique Needs of Pregnant Women Suffering From SUD
CDC: Pregnancy and Opioids Parental Substance Abuse




Our writers are experienced in everything related to addiction, mental health, rehab and recovery.

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