Why Avoiding Fentanyl Use During Pregnancy Matters
What We Know
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine and is classified as a narcotic. Doctors prescribe pharmaceutical fentanyl to treat severe pain, while illicit fentanyl is sold on the black market. It is a white powder that can be easily added to other drugs like counterfeit oxycontin, hydrocodone, and Xanax pills as well as stimulants like meth and cocaine. Adding fentanyl to other drugs makes them cheaper to produce, more powerful, more addictive, and more dangerous. Over 150 people die every day from overdoses related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. (1)
Opioid misuse during pregnancy has been linked with serious negative health outcomes for pregnant women and developing babies.
Effects on the Mother
Illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) is available on the drug market in different forms, including liquid and powder. Fentanyl-laced drugs are extremely dangerous, as many people may be unaware that their drugs are laced with fentanyl, which can lead to accidental overdose and death. In general, drug use during pregnancy can cause problems with the woman’s blood pressure and heart rate and can alter her state of mind. This can lead to poor decision-making about your health and your baby’s health. Your ability to choose what is best for you and your baby is impaired, which can cause unintended and serious consequences.
Before Your Baby Is Born
Growth & Development
Just like the food you eat or the beverages you drink, any drugs – fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana, etc. – pass through the umbilical cord into your unborn baby’s body. While you may not intend to harm your baby, drugs can cut off some or all of the food and oxygen your baby needs to grow and thrive.
Generally, babies whose mothers misuse drugs can be born too small. Stimulant drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine and other narcotics like opioids, including fentanyl, may interfere with the growth of the brain before the baby is born, leading to neurodevelopmental delays. The drugs can also slow the flow of blood to the baby’s body while in the womb, potentially causing physical abnormalities such as missing parts of its arms, legs, and internal organs.
Miscarriage & Premature Birth
Fentanyl can be mixed with many different types of drugs to create dangerous combinations, which makes the effects on the mother and developing fetus unpredictable. These drugs also can cause the mother to have a miscarriage or give birth early, before the baby is fully grown and able to thrive. The baby may be born too small or too early, which makes it more likely they will need to be cared for in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU).
After Your Baby Is Born
Neonatal Withdrawal Syndrome (NAS)
Babies who are experiencing withdrawal from narcotics – whether from heroin, methadone, or prescription drug form – can suffer from the following symptoms:
- High-pitched crying
- Respiratory distress
Drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana also can cause the baby to be shaky, have a hard time responding to the mother or other caregivers, and can impact the child’s behaviors and learning capabilities for the long term. Caring for a baby experiencing withdrawal can be extremely difficult, taking a physical, mental, and emotional toll.
Anything you choose to take into your body can be passed to your baby through your breast milk. Unfortunately, all drugs can enter the baby through the mother’s breast milk and may hurt the baby’s brain development. Fentanyl in particular can make the baby sleepy and poorly responsive. This interferes with the baby’s ability to feed well and interact with you. It also can affect the baby’s ability to breathe, which can lead to the infant’s death.
It’s Never Too Late!
Talk to Someone
If you’re using any kind of drugs, please talk to your healthcare provider right away! Quickly stopping fentanyl or other opioid use during pregnancy is not recommended – it can lead to preterm labor, fetal distress, or miscarriage. Your healthcare provider can work with you to create a plan to assist, support, and guide you on a path to health for you and your baby.