Opioid Use, Pregnancy & What it Means for Your Baby

By Sophie Dila

If you’re planning on getting pregnant soon, have a bun in the oven, or you’re currently breastfeeding, then it’s time to touch base with your healthcare provider to talk about any meds you’re taking. Opioids, a medication used to treat pain, can have harmful health impacts on you and your little one during and after pregnancy.  We at Beforeplay.org always want you to have accurate information, so you can make the best decisions for yourself.  To help with that, here’s the 101 on opioids and their potential effects on your maternal health.

The United States is currently experiencing a major opioid crisis. The death rate related to opioid use has sky-rocketed since 2000, with no signs of letting up. Understanding the history of how this problem got so out of control can help all you mamas-to-be make informed, healthy decisions.

Back in the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies assured medical providers that opioid pain killers were not addictive, and healthcare providers began to prescribe opioids in massive quantities to treat acute pain.  Common types are codeine, oxycodone, fentanyl, hydrocodone, and morphine.

In 2013 alone, healthcare providers wrote almost 250 million scripts for opioids, enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills. People were learning, too, that opioids are addictive, despite what the companies who made them said.

This flood of opioids into the general public eventually led to overuse to the painkillers, and increased use of heroine when prescription drugs were unavailable.  Just in 2016, 116 people were dying each day because of opioid-related overdoses. That’s more people who died in a year than those who died from AIDS in its deadliest year.

You can face sexual health risks from opioids, too.  One of the major ones is from using them during pregnancy which causes Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in infants.  To sum it up, opioid use during pregnancy is on the rise – and so is NAS in infants.  The addictive qualities of opioids can impact babies as they are developing in the womb.  Using opioids when pregnant leads to babies being born addicted, and then they suffer drug withdrawal symptoms, or NAS, as little newborns.  Common symptoms of NAS include irritability, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and poor feeding.  We’re guessing that’s not what you want for your little one.

Thankfully, everyone is learning more about these drugs and the implications.  Health care providers now have new and improved guidelines to help boost communication and understanding about opioids.  If opioids – prescription or otherwise – are part of your life and you’re thinking about getting pregnant – talk to your provider and get some support.  No judgement – this addiction is a tough nut to crack.  So all you soon-to-be or new mamas out there, be a proactive patient, make an appointment to see your doc, and just talk about it!

For more information about prescription drug safety in Colorado, check out Take Meds Seriously.