Treating Pregnant Women Addicted to Opiates

Pregnant Women Are An Underserved Addicted Population

Opiate addiction is a common problem in America today, and those who find themselves addicted need professional help. Treatment for opiate addiction becomes more complex when the individual in need of treatment is a pregnant woman, because of the potential complications to the mother and the baby before, during, and after treatment.

The Ridge Specializes In Fighting Addiction During Pregnancy

If a mother-to-be is addicted to drugs like opiates, it is important that she seek help immediately for the addiction. Untreated opioid use during pregnancy can lead to serious consequences for the unborn baby. Just as with most substances, foods, and medications used by the mother, opiates travel through the placenta to the baby, impacting the baby’s development and wellbeing.

There is hope for addiction during pregnancy, and treatment is available. A trusted rehab program like that at The Ridge is the best way for a pregnant woman to get help for her opioid addiction problem while caring for the safety of her baby.

Risks of Opiate Use during Pregnancy

Opioid abuse during pregnancy is dangerous for the mother and baby, but attempting to quit can also be risky. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fluctuating levels of opioids in the mother may expose the fetus to repeated periods of withdrawal, which can harm placenta function. In essence, expectant mothers who continuously try to stop using and then go back to getting high are exposing their babies to withdrawal over and over, which causes harm to the developing baby.


Other risks to the mother and/or baby caused by opioid use include:

  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome
  • Stunted growth
  • Preterm labor
  • Low birth weight
  • Learning disabilities
  • Birth defects
  • Fetal convulsions
  • Fetal death
  • Increased risk for maternal infection (e.g., HIV)
  • Malnutrition and poor prenatal care
  • Dangers from drug seeking (e.g., violence and incarceration)

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

One of the most serious risks to babies born to addicted mothers is neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). These babies become addicted to opioids during development, and when the baby is born, they experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are basically the same as what an adult going through withdrawal experiences, including diarrhea, fever, chills, irritability, seizures, tremors, respiratory distress, nausea, and difficulty eating. These symptoms are often more serious in a newborn infant because of their small size and because they can interfere with the child’s normal development and growth, which leads to lasting effects.

It is important for a mother-to-be to get help for her opiate addiction as soon as possible. With the right kind of help, these women can stop the opioid use, get proper prenatal care, and provide the best chance at healthy development for their unborn baby.

Heroin Abuse during Pregnancy

Even though heroin is a drug closely related to prescription painkillers, it has even greater impacts on pregnant women and their developing babies. According to the American Pregnancy Association, women who use heroin during their pregnancies expose their unborn babies to other problems, such as bleeding in the brain, breathing difficulties, premature birth, low birth weight, and low blood sugar. Heroin causes a high frequency of miscarriage during the first eight weeks of pregnancy, and it also leads to a host of other problems caused by improper nutrition, inadequate health care, and risky behavior on the part of the impaired mother.

Just as other opioid drug abuse can be treated in pregnant women, heroin addiction can be treated in expecting women. This type of rehab must be done with care, as the fragile life of the baby is at risk. Certain medications have been shown to be safe for managing withdrawal symptoms in pregnant women, and those who seek professional help for their heroin addiction are offering their child the best chance at a healthy life.


Breastfeeding and Opioid Addiction

Because breastfeeding is so beneficial to a developing baby’s immune system and strengthens the mother/child bond, it is generally promoted, even among babies going through neonatal abstinence syndrome. However, mothers that use opioids who want to breastfeed their baby after birth should talk to their doctor about the risks. These drugs pass through the breast milk into the baby’s system and depending on the drug and its dose, it may cause severe effects on the baby. In certain cases, the mother would be advised not to breastfeed because of the danger it would cause to the baby. When in doubt, the mother should consult her physician and follow his or her recommendations for whether or not to breastfeed.


Treatment for Opiate Addiction among Pregnant Women

There are safe and effective treatments available for pregnant women who are addicted to opioid drugs. Medications such as buprenorphine and methadone are relatively safe for the developing child and are widely used in pregnant women in rehab. In fact, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society of Addiction Medicine support methadone and buprenorphine treatment as best practice for opioid use disorder during pregnancy. Women who are provided with medication-assisted treatment benefit in the following ways, according to NIDA:

The best kind of opioid addiction treatment facility for a pregnant woman is one that is experienced working with expectant mothers and is licensed in medication-assisted treatment. It is important for the health of the baby and the mother that the rehab staff understands the risks associated with pregnancy and drug abuse, and is equipped to offer the care for mother and child during and after treatment.

Statistics Regarding Opioid Abuse among Pregnant Women

Because of the recent rise in opioid addiction in communities across America, there has been an increase in pregnant women who are addicted to opiates. This poses a great risk to the developing baby, and statistics show this trend could have lasting impacts on society.

  • It is estimated that one infant is born exposed to in-utero narcotic abuse every hour in the United States.
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome increased nearly fivefold nationally between 2000 to 2012, coinciding with rising rates of opioid prescribing to pregnant women, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  • According to the most recent data available from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration., 5.4 percent of pregnant women aged 15 to 44 were reported to be current illicit drug users, and 9.4 percent reported current alcohol use.
  • According to the Merck Manual, women who drink alcohol while they are pregnant are nearly 50 percent more likely to have a miscarriage and substantially more likely to give birth to a baby with low birth weight than other women.
  • Over the past 10 years, the rate of pregnant women who are dependent on opioids has steadily increased in the United States. In fact, on average, about 21,000 pregnant women aged 15 to 44 misused opioids in the past month, according to combined 2007 to 2012 national surveys on drug use and health from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  • The CDC found that at least 33 percent of women of childbearing age (15–44) in the Medicaid program, and 25 percent of women of that age with private insurance, received prescription opioids every year between 2008 and 2012.
  • 22 percent of pregnant women were prescribed opioids during their pregnancy, according to a 2016 study published in Science Daily.


The Ridge’s Opioid Treatment Program for Pregnant Women

The Ridge is equipped to assist pregnant women who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Our physician-directed program offers the safest, most structured form of rehab, in order to ensure the wellbeing of mother and child alike. We address the issue of pregnancy and opioid addiction through our therapy sessions, individualized care, and basic resources for those going through these major life changes. We enable mothers to take control of their own health, as well as the safety and wellbeing of their developing baby.

The recovery program for pregnant women at The Ridge utilizes Subutex to help manage cravings during pregnancy. We monitor expectant mothers closely during and after rehab and connect them with proper prenatal care. We also connect mothers with a support system they can be a part of throughout their pregnancy and afterward, in order to prevent relapse and encourage ongoing healthy behaviors.

The Ridge M.O.T.H.E.R. Program Goals

In addition to improved birth outcomes and long-term recovery, the objectives of the M.O.T.H.E.R. program include:

  • One of our main objectives is referrals to prenatal care and case management
  • Education on Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS)
  • Expectations for pre-and post-delivery
  • Reduced complications due to opiate use and exposure
  • Empowerment, self-esteem, and responsibility
  • Parenting and child development resources
  • Relapse prevention
  • Access to additional resources

The best thing a mother-to-be can do for her developing child is to get help for her opioid addiction as soon as she can. There are certainly risks for these women as they embark on withdrawal and recovery, but with the right kind of care, women can rest assured that they are doing what is best for themselves and for their baby.

If you are pregnant and struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, we can help. The Ridge offers specialized treatment for pregnant women who are addicted to opioids. We offer structured detox and inpatient care.

The Ridge is a residential treatment program that offers medically assisted substance abuse detox, as well as intensive therapy and counseling programming.

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