• Why Prescription Opioid Misuse and Abuse During Pregnancy Matters

    What We Know

    The misuse and abuse of opioids have remained constant over the last several decades, though the rates of babies in hospital nurseries who are suffering from the effects of exposure to narcotics, often due to prescription medications, are rising. Common opioids are oxycodone and hydrocodone, which are prescribed for pain relief but are sold illicitly on the black market.

    Effects on the Infant

    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:

    • Irritability
    • High-pitched crying
    • Jitteriness
    • Sweating
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Seizures
    • Respiratory distress

    Babies affected most severely may have to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) while doctors use drugs like methadone and morphine to provide relief and wean them from the drugs their mothers used. Withdrawal symptoms peak around 6 weeks of age but can last 4-6 months or longer.

    Premature Birth & Growth

    Infants may also be born premature, have low birth weight, have muscle tone abnormalities, and experience behavior problems. Opioid use has also been linked to stillbirth and birth defects.


    Anything you choose to take in can be passed to your baby through your breastmilk. While opioids have been shown to be safe for the baby when given to breastfeeding mothers in lower doses and over short periods (4 to 6 days), all drugs can enter the baby through the mother’s breast milk and may impact the baby’s development. If your baby is showing any of the following reactions to breast milk, contact the baby’s health.

     Long-Term Effects

    The effects of prenatal opioid exposure on children over time are not yet fully known. Although studies show that the child’s intellectual development is normal, he or she may experience ongoing difficulties and other long-term effects on development that aren’t obvious at birth.

    It’s Never Too Late! 

    Talk to Someone

    If a pregnant woman needs a particular medication, she must work with her doctor to create a treatment plan: find the appropriate dose, monitor the pregnancy closely, and be prepared to address the needs of the child, both short and long term. Quickly stopping 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.

    Misuse of medications during pregnancy can pose a significant risk to both the mother and the baby. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor for support and guidance!