Side Effects of Methadone in Pregnant Women

With opiate addiction, addicts eventually reach a point where no amount of the drug can ward off withdrawal episodes. For pregnant women, withdrawal episodes not only endanger the mother, but also the fetus.

mmt pregnancy

Pregnant women should talk to their doctors about medication treatment during pregnancy.

According to the American Council of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, as much as 4.4 percent of pregnant women were reported opiate users in 2010. Methadone, one of the few medications approved for treatment of opiate addiction during pregnancy, prevents withdrawal episodes from occurring while also warding off persistent drug cravings

While the benefits of using methadone during pregnancy far outweigh the risks, side effects of methadone can also pose certain risks for the mother and the baby. As with methadone treatment in general, finding the right dosage levels is key to preventing side effects of methadone from developing.

Methadone Effects

According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, since 1998, methadone has remained the standard of care for the treatment of opiate addiction for pregnant women. Most notably, methadone’s ability to stabilize blood-opiate levels during pregnancy goes a long way towards preventing withdrawal episodes from occurring.

As a treatment medication, methadone acts as a substitute for addictive opiate drugs without creating a high risk for addiction. While standard treatment protocols do recommend certain dosage levels throughout the course of treatment, the physical changes that take place during pregnancy increase the potential for side effects of methadone to develop.

Potential for Withdrawal Episodes

As one of the more dangerous side effects of methadone, the potential for experiencing withdrawal episodes increases as a woman’s pregnancy term progresses. Consequently, a woman stands a greater chance of developing side effects of methadone during the later stages of pregnancy.

Along with correct dosage amounts, methadone’s effectiveness depends on its being metabolized at a stable or consistent rate. As a woman’s pregnancy progresses, body fluid levels and weight increase accordingly. These changes not only interfere with methadone’s effectiveness, but also trigger withdrawal episodes.

Birthing Precautions

When it comes time to give birth, standard medications given to relieve the pain of labor include opiate antagonist drugs. Methadone works as an opiate agonist, meaning it stimulates the production of certain neurotransmitter chemicals.

In effect, an opiate antagonist agent will counteract methadone’s intended effects and cause side effects of methadone to develop. Withdrawal symptoms and increased discomfort during labor are likely.

Side Effects for the Baby

Since methadone works as a substitute opiate treatment, babies exposed to methadone in the womb have a high risk of developing neonatal abstinence syndrome. This side effect of methadone can actually cause the baby to experience withdrawal effects.

Withdrawal symptoms typically develop within 72 hours after giving birth. According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, withdrawal symptoms may take the form of –

  • Fever
  • Blotchy skin color
  • High pitched crying
  • Seizures
  • Sweating
  • Problems sleeping

Going “Cold Turkey” – Considerations

While the side effects of methadone during pregnancy do warrant cause for concern, mothers considering going “cold turkey” during pregnancy may face even greater dangers. Any condition that increases the potential for withdrawal effects to develop can jeopardize the health and life of the fetus. Fetal abnormalities and the likelihood of premature birth increases considerably.