Opioid use in general is a major public health concern, but opioid abuse during pregnancy is especially alarming and is a growing problem in the United States. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2010 and 2017, there was a 131 percent increase in the number of women who were diagnosed with an opioid-related condition at the time their babies were born. Furthermore, in 2019, around 7 percent of women admitted that they had used prescription opioids during pregnancy, and ⅕ of these women indicated that they abused the drugs, by using them for reasons other than pain or by getting them from someone other than a medical provider. The growing rate of opioid abuse during pregnancy is concerning, because opioids can seriously harm a growing baby, but there are treatment options available to pregnant women.

The Impact of Prenatal Opioid Exposure on Babies

It is no secret that abuse of opioids like heroin and oxycodone is dangerous for drug users, but it is also important to consider that these drugs can pass from mother to baby during pregnancy and have devastating effects on a growing baby. For instance, according to the CDC, babies born to mothers who abused opioids during pregnancy are more likely to demonstrate poor growth. They are also at increased risk of birth defects, preterm birth, and stillbirth.

Another severe consequence of maternal opioid abuse is neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a condition that occurs when a baby suffers from withdrawal from opioids after birth. Babies develop NAS because during pregnancy, they are exposed to opioids from the mother, and they can become dependent upon them. After birth, when no longer exposed to opioids via their mother, these babies undergo withdrawal symptoms, which can include the following:

  • Tremors
  • Excessive high-pitched crying
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Seizures
  • Stuffy nose and sneezing
  • Frequent yawning
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting and loose stools
  • Dehydration
  • Hyperactive reflexes
  • Difficulty with feeding and sucking

These symptoms are incredibly uncomfortable for newborn babies, and babies who demonstrate signs of neonatal abstinence syndrome are likely to require treatment in the neonatal intensive care unit to keep them comfortable and safe as they undergo withdrawal.

Long Term Effects of Prenatal Opioid Exposure

While the consequences of maternal opioid abuse are obvious in newborn babies, what may be less apparent is the lasting consequences of prenatal opioid exposure. According to the CDC, research suggests that children who are exposed to opioids in the womb are more likely to have developmental delays and speech difficulties. A review of multiple studies also indicated that prenatal opioid exposure has a negative impact on both physical and cognitive functioning beginning at six months of age, and these effects persist through the teenage years.

Treatment for Pregnant Women with Opioid Addictions

It is clear that maternal opioid abuse during pregnancy has serious and lasting consequences for children. Given the risks associated with prenatal opioid exposure, it is critical that women who are struggling with an opioid addiction begin a treatment program as soon as possible upon learning they are pregnant.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) with either buprenorphine or methadone has been found to be an effective option for treating pregnant women with opioid addictions. Buprenorphine may be the preferred option in some cases, because it is associated with lower rates of neonatal abstinence syndrome and less of a need for postnatal hospital treatment among infants. Research shows that women who are treated with buprenorphine or methadone during pregnancy have better health outcomes, and their babies have better outcomes after birth.

If you are pregnant and living with an opioid addiction, you should never feel alone. At iRecoveryUSA, we can provide comprehensive MAT via our telehealth portal, so you can receive treatment from the comfort of home. Reach out to us today to get on the track to recovery, so you can ensure the best future for yourself and your baby.