Methadone Maintenance and Pregnancy

It can be difficult for an opioid-dependent person to abruptly stop using the drug. Even if their goal is to quit, the withdrawal symptoms they experience are often too painful, so they end up using again to avoid the discomfort. Stopping cold turkey can also be dangerous and cause complications. For a pregnant woman who uses heroin or other opioid type drugs, the danger is not just on her overall health, but that of the unborn child –including the chance for the baby to grow safely to full-term.

Many opioid dependent women are placed on methadone maintenance treatment. While some may think this sounds dangerous, it is much safer than a woman continuing to use heroin, or trying to suddenly stop using it. Withdrawal can cause a woman’s uterus to contract –which can cause miscarriage or death. Methadone has proven to be the best choice to help pregnant women deliver a healthy baby. It will not cause birth defects or for the baby to be born addicted to methadone.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, methadone treatment has been recommended as the standard care for opioid-dependent pregnant women since 1998.

What are the Benefits of Methadone Maintenance for Pregnancy?

With proper medical care and administering of this medication to a pregnant woman, a baby born to a mother that was on methadone can be just as healthy as other babies. Methadone can help safely block withdrawal symptoms, and can save the life of the baby. Other benefits that methadone can provide to pregnant women dependent on opioids include:

  • It can control or prevent the cravings many opioid dependent woman may have
  • It helps block the effects of opioid drugs
  • It helps improve the health of the pregnant woman –physically and mentally
  • Gives the mother-to-be a chance at attaining a healthier life
  • It can help those that use needles to stop using them –which can prevent further chances of infections
  • Helps prevent the onset of withdrawal for 24 hours or more
  • Can help the pregnant woman improve her nutrition –which is good for her and the unborn child
  • Helps the women to get proper medical care throughout her pregnancy and after the baby is born
  • Babies are born with healthier weight –compared to pregnant women that continue on heroin and receive no care

As a viable treatment option, methadone medication can significantly improve the chances for a mother to have a healthy baby without the fear of life-threatening complications for either herself or the baby. It is clearly the better choice than continuing on heroin or other opioid related drugs.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, methadone maintenance relative to medication-assisted withdrawal provides superior relapse prevention, reduces fetal exposure to illicit drug use and other maternal risk behaviors, improves adherence with obstetrical care, and enhances neonatal outcomes.

What about Neonatal Withdrawal When the Baby Arrives?

methadone and pregnancy

Taking methadone while pregnant can be risky for your unborn child.

While there is a chance that a baby born to a mother who has been receiving methadone medication may go through withdrawal, the symptoms are not as severe as it may sound. The symptoms (if any), are managed by the doctor for the best outcome possible. Some of the symptoms that may be noticed include:

  • Baby may not sleep well
  • Baby may not eat well
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Restlessness
  • Trembling

Symptoms may last a few weeks, but with a doctor’s care the baby can soon be sleeping and eating just fine. Many times, quietness and a comforting setting can help the baby relax, and be more comfortable. Women who choose to be on methadone maintenance are giving themselves and their unborn child a chance at a healthier life.

If you or a loved one are using opioid drugs and are pregnant, do not attempt to abruptly stop use on your own, seek the help of medical professionals as soon as possible. Talk to them about methadone maintenance treatment, and give yourself and your unborn child a chance at a better life.