Is It Safe to Take Methadone During Pregnancy?

pregoIf you’re a pregnant woman who is addicted to heroin or other opiates, you might be wondering if it’s safe to start or continue methadone maintenance therapy during your pregnancy. You are right to be concerned — it’s common knowledge that taking illegal drugs during pregnancy can harm your baby, and there are plenty of prescription and over-the-counter drugs that shouldn’t be used during pregnancy, either. But methadone isn’t one of them.

Using methadone to manage your opiate withdrawal symptoms during pregnancy is the best thing for both you and your baby. If you go into full heroin withdrawal while you’re pregnant, it could cause a miscarriage or early delivery. Methadone maintenance is the best way to protect yourself and your baby from the negative consequences of illegal drug use. On methadone, you can focus on overcoming your addiction and rebuilding your life so you can be a good mother to your baby.

Methadone Use During Pregnancy Does Not Cause Birth Defects

Few mothers-to-be would blithely take a prescription drug without worrying about its affect on their unborn babies. Research has proven that methadone is safe for use during pregnancy; the U.S. government even requires that methadone clinics prioritize treatment for pregnant women. Babies born to women taking methadone will experience neonatal withdrawal syndrome, which is uncomfortable for them, but doesn’t cause lasting damage. Your baby should grow and develop normally and is just as likely to thrive as any baby not born to a mother using methadone.

Treatment Can Help You Be a Better Mother

All things considered, the use of methadone during pregnancy is much safer for both you and your baby than the use of illegal drugs. Once you enter methadone treatment, if you haven’t already, you will be able to get the neonatal care you need to keep your baby healthy. You’ll be able to focus on eating right, taking care of yourself, getting addiction counseling, finding a job, finishing your education, and all the other things that are important to creating a happy life for yourself and your child.

If you’re pregnant and addicted to heroin and you do not receive treatment at a methadone clinic for heroin addicts, you are exposing yourself and your baby to a number of serious, even life-threatening, consequences. Getting on methadone maintenance treatment while you’re pregnant could prevent you from:

  • Suffering anemia or malnutrition that could affect yours and your baby’s health
  • Contracting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis during pregnancy
  • Experiencing an overdose
  • Having a miscarriage due to opiate withdrawal

Methadone will not hurt your baby, but continuing to use heroin will. You will probably need to increase your dosage of methadone as your pregnancy progresses, in order to continue managing your withdrawal symptoms successfully. It is better to go ahead and take the higher dose of methadone than it is to risk experiencing withdrawal that could cause an early delivery. If you’re already on methadone when you become pregnant, don’t feel that you need to taper off just because you’re pregnant; it’s safer to stay on methadone during your pregnancy and taper off after the baby is born, if you’re ready.

d'ohWhat to Expect After Your Baby Is Born

Babies born to mothers taking methadone will experience neonatal withdrawal syndrome because they are physically dependent on methadone. It’s important to understand, however, that your baby will not be born addicted; addiction has a psychological component and involves compulsive behaviors. Your unborn baby is simply incapable of developing the compulsive behavior patterns that comprise addiction.

Your baby will experience discomfort during withdrawal, but the amount of that discomfort will depend not on your dosage of methadone, but on your baby’s individual reaction to the drug. Taking a higher dose of methadone during pregnancy does not necessary mean that your baby’s withdrawal symptoms will be worse. Symptoms of neonatal withdrawal syndrome include:

  • Excessive crying
  • Sneezing
  • Yawning
  • Rapid breathing
  • Gastrointestinal problems

Your baby will need to go through methadone detox to be weaned off the drug over a period of a few weeks. Untreated neonatal withdrawal syndrome can have serious consequences, but with treatment, your baby will be fine. You should be able to breastfeed your baby, even if you’re still on methadone yourself, because methadone does not come out in breast milk. You may also benefit from parenting classes.

If you’re pregnant and addicted to opiates, methadone maintenance treatment can significantly increase your chances of having a healthy baby. Treatment can also help you begin to put your life back together again, so you can welcome your new baby into a stable and loving, healthy home.

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