Methadone Treatment During Pregnancy

Methadone has a 50+ year history as an effective opiate addiction treatment drug. Its use during pregnancy has been researched since the late 1960s, according to Pennsylvania State University. Overall, methadone treatment offers the safest and most effective means for treating opiate addiction during pregnancy and is the only approved medication for use in this capacity.

Compared to the potentially damaging effects of continued heroin and prescription drug abuse on a developing fetus, methadone treatment offers certain therapeutic benefits that work to ensure the safety of both the mother and the baby.

Effects of Opiate Addiction on the Baby

Abusing opiate drugs while pregnant places a developing fetus at considerable risk of any number of serious health complications. Whenever the mother goes through withdrawal effects when in need of a “fix,” the developing fetus also experiences withdrawal. In effect, the strain that withdrawal places on the body can result in premature delivery or even stillbirth.

According to Princeton University, newborns of opiate-addicted mothers go through what’s known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, another form of withdrawal. Babies affected by this condition not only exhibit signs of opiate withdrawal for up to two months, but also tend to have low birth weights and a small head size, which can compromise their overall development in later years.

Benefits of Methadone Maintenance Treatment


Methadone helps eliminate cravings.

Compared to the potential damage that ongoing opiate abuse can bringe, the effects of methadone maintenance treatment during pregnancy greatly improve the likelihood a woman will carry to term and deliver a healthy baby. Methadone works by mimicking the effects of addictive opiates, and in the process stabilizing brain neurotransmitter chemical activities. The stabilizing of neurotransmitter activity enables the body to support and nurture a developing fetus without the risks of that come with withdrawal episodes.

According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, other benefits afforded by methadone maintenance treatment include:

  • Eliminates cravings for addictive opiates
  • Improves a women’s overall physical and emotional health
  • Eliminates the need to “shoot up” which exposes the fetus to infections
  • Creates a healthy environment where the fetus can progress through the stages of normal fetal development
  • Reduces the likelihood of complications during delivery

Dosage Adjustments

Methadone’s therapeutic effects depend on the body’s ability to metabolize the drug at a consistent rate. During pregnancy, the body’s metabolism rates fluctuate as the fetus develops. Changes in metabolism rate affect how much methadone flows through the bloodstream at any given time.

For these reasons, women undergoing methadone maintenance treatment must be monitored closely throughout the pregnancy term to ensure their receiving the right methadone dosage level. Otherwise, the resulting risk of experiencing withdrawal and drug cravings places a person at risk of relapsing.

Treatment Considerations

While methadone maintenance treatment works well at relieving withdrawal and drug cravings effects, the psychological aftereffects of opiate addiction still pose a risk to a woman’s recovery efforts. In effect, addiction-based thinking, emotions and behaviors predispose a person to relapse for months or even years into the recovery process. For this reason, it’s essential that women receiving methadone maintenance treatment during pregnancy receive behavioral-based treatment throughout the course of their pregnancy.

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