According to the CDC, those who take methadone during pregnancy in order to avoid prescription or illicit opioid abuse saw “improved pregnancy outcomes.” Taking the drug in doctor-recommended doses is much safer for both the pregnant individual and the unborn child than continued opioid abuse or going off of opioid use completely and enduring withdrawal symptoms. Still, there are important effects you should be aware of when taking methadone during pregnancy.
Post-Natal Withdrawal Symptoms
A baby who has been exposed to methadone regularly during pregnancy will often be born dependent on the drug. This means the child will experience withdrawal symptoms after they are born. According to the NLM, these side effects could be “life-threatening” and hospitalization is necessary, at least for the first few weeks. The withdrawal symptoms experienced by your child will likely include:
- Abnormal sleep patterns
- High-pitched crying
- Uncontrollable shaking of a specific part of the body
- Failure to gain weight
Babies in this situation will be given small doses of methadone in order to wean them slowly off the drug. It is important that a new parent be prepared for this condition after childbirth and that arrangements are made with the hospital so that the child can be safe and well taken care of during withdrawal.
Methadone use does not cause birth defects in children of pregnant users, contrary to popular belief, although the child’s withdrawal syndrome can be difficult. The symptoms of withdrawal can last up to four weeks after the baby is born.
Methadone is Much Healthier than Other Alternatives
While this may seem dangerous, methadone maintenance treatment during pregnancy is much safer for both mother and child than stopping opioid use altogether. If a pregnant individual stops abusing opioids suddenly, withdrawal symptoms will result which can be harmful to the child.
SAMHSA states, “Withdrawal for pregnant women is especially dangerous because it causes the uterus to contract and may bring on miscarriage or premature birth.” This can be avoided with methadone maintenance treatment. “By blocking withdrawal symptoms, MMT can save your baby’s life.”
Methadone use during pregnancy can also:
- Help the pregnant individual avoid using needle drugs which can be extremely dangerous and possibly cause the contraction of HIV, hepatitis, and other transmittable diseases
- Allow the individual to regain a better quality of life
- Block the effects of other opioid drugs
- “Promote increased physical and emotional health”
Methadone’s Effects on a Child’s Quality of Life
“While it is not known for certain what long-term effects the exposure to methadone may have on babies, their health is much better than babies born to mothers on heroin.” Many babies are born healthily and grow up to be completely normal after methadone exposure in the womb.
It is important to remember maintenance with this drug, while not without its problematic effects, is one the safest ways for opioid-addicted individuals who become pregnant to give birth to healthy babies and have their own healthy outcomes to. Currently, there is some research about the effectiveness of buprenorphine during pregnancy, but “thousands of healthy babies” are born every day after being exposed to methadone during pregnancy.