Many individuals who are addicted to heroin––or other opioid drugs––and become pregnant are urged to go on methadone maintenance. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Withdrawal for pregnant women is especially dangerous because it causes the uterus to contract and may bring on miscarriage or premature birth. By blocking withdrawal symptoms, MMT can save your baby’s life.” But how well do children of pregnant methadone maintenance users fair after they are born?
Complications Associated with Methadone Maintenance and Pregnancy
Methadone maintenance is often the best choice for pregnant individuals because the medication can help minimize their withdrawal symptoms and keep both them and the baby stabilized during pregnancy. But certain issues can occur when a woman gives birth to a child after being on methadone. According to the National Library of Medicine, “Neonatal abstinence syndrome… is a group of problems that occur in a newborn who was exposed to addictive opiate drugs while in the mother’s womb.” Even if the baby and the mother were not receiving addictive doses, as is the case with methadone maintenance, it can still cause the baby to experience intense withdrawal symptoms after birth, such as:
- Blotchy skin coloring
- Excessive crying
- High-pitched crying
- Excessive sucking
- Hyperactive reflexes
- Increased muscle tone
- Poor feeding
- Rapid breathing
- Sleep problems
- Slow weight gain
- Stuffy nose
Children often experience these withdrawal symptoms, not because they were addicted to the methadone, but because they are dependent on it. Their body is accustomed to receiving it, and now that they are not, they will often experience these issues, which can be dangerous and even deadly if not properly monitored. However, once these children have gone through withdrawal under the care of a doctor, they normally experience no issues whatsoever.
Are Children of Pregnant Methadone Maintenance Users Able to Recover?
SAMHSA states, “The good news is that babies born to mothers on methadone do as well as other babies.” This is because the withdrawal symptoms can be treated by weaning these children slowly off methadone or even by providing a comforting, quiet space for the baby to rest in during the early stage of withdrawal. Doctors must prescribe any medication taken by the child, and parents should adhere to the prescription exactly to avoid any further problems, but this process shouldn’t take longer than a week or two.
We do not yet know if any long-term issues could possibly occur from this treatment, as so far, there have been none to report. But this treatment option is much safer than continued opioid abuse by the pregnant individual or stopping the use of opioids altogether; both of these actions can be extremely dangerous for both mother and child, as pregnancy severely complicates withdrawal. But as of now, we know of no issues faced in the long term by either the pregnant individual or the child associated with methadone maintenance.
“It can be reassuring to know that thousands of healthy babies born to methadone-maintained moms develop into normal children,” and a safe, strong recovery is usually the outcome of these pregnancies and births. If you would like to learn more about methadone maintenance or find treatment center near you, call 800-530-0431.