Painkillers and Pregnancy: Information on Opioids During Pregnancy, and Alternatives

opioids.pngBy Renee Deveney, The Recovery Village

For many, using prescription opioids is a day-to-day reality that can help relieve chronic pain for a functioning life. Your doctor may write a script if you deal with prolonged back pain or are still recovering from an accident. There are a number of reasons why a patient may take prescription painkillers like Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, Lortab or morphine. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 21.8 percent of American women filled an opioid prescription in 2016, so it’s not surprising that many women looking to get pregnant might also be taking prescription painkillers.

But just because you took opioids before you were pregnant, doesn’t mean they’re a good fit for managing pain during pregnancy. In fact, using opioids (whether they be for medical or recreational purposes) while pregnant can be harmful to your child.


Dangers of Opioid Use While Pregnant

Expectant mothers have warning signs everywhere they go. It may seem like you’re told to stop doing everything you once did before pregnancy. No alcohol, cigarettes or even deli meat. But some restrictions can make an extreme difference in your child’s development, and could even be deadly if not followed.

The risks of using opioids while pregnant include:

  • Premature birth
  • Birth defects
  • Stillbirth
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS)
  • Low birth weight
  • Infant seizures
  • Heart, brain and spinal defects

One of the biggest risks of using opioids when pregnant is neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). When a baby has been exposed to drugs in the womb, they become susceptible to withdrawal symptoms as they are essentially born addicted to the substance. It can be an extremely trying and dangerous experience for the baby and new mother alike, as the newborn will often require an extended hospital stay to overcome withdrawal. The easiest way to prevent potential birth defects or NAS is to avoid substances like opioids while pregnant, and find alternative or holistic pain management methods.


How to Safely Stop Taking Opioids While Pregnant

If you are taking opioids while pregnant, including prescription painkillers, it’s important to develop a plan to stop. If you only use opioids occasionally to target specific pain, you may be able to simply stop using them. Consult your doctor about how and when to stop taking a prescription painkiller when pregnant.

If you use prescription painkiller regularly, or have become addicted to opioids, however, quitting cold turkey can be dangerous for you and your baby. That’s why creating a recovery plan with a medical professional can be helpful — if not life-changing — for you and your child. A doctor or rehabilitation specialist can help you detox while pregnant, and will often do so with medication-assisted treatment. This method helps you safely detox by weaning your body off of the substance. Once cravings and withdrawal symptoms are managed, you can transition away from the medication entirely.

In some cases, medication-assisted treatment may be necessary throughout the entire pregnancy to limit the effects of NAS. In cases where the mother has used opioids extensively throughout the pregnancy, both mother and baby may need to continue treatment after birth. The safest option is to address your opioid use as soon as you know you are pregnant to avoid complications and limit the chances of NAS.


Alternatives to Opioid Painkillers During Pregnancy

If you’ve successfully managed pain with prescription opioids, it can feel difficult, if not impossible, to find an alternative while pregnant. In fact, pregnancy can bring on its own set of painful experiences as your body grows and adjusts. But there are many alternatives to help keep you and your baby healthy.

Some alternatives to prescription opioids for pain relief during pregnancy include:

  • Over-the-counter pain medications (consult with your doctor before taking any drug while pregnant)
  • Heating pads on targeted areas
  • Stretches designed for relief in pregnancy
  • Elevating your feet and legs
  • Low-impact exercise like swimming
  • Acupuncture (consult with your doctor)
  • Meditation
  • Prenatal massage
  • Prenatal yoga
  • Intermittent walking and standing throughout the day
  • Sleeping with a pillow (or two) between your knees

No matter how you decide to treat chronic or pregnancy pain, doing so without opioids can be the healthiest option for you or your child. Working alongside your doctor and being completely open about your prescription (or illicit) drug use is imperative for you and your newborn. With the right resources and alternatives to pain management, you can give birth with confidence without the influence of opioids.


About The Recovery Village

The Recovery Village is a comprehensive substance abuse and eating disorder treatment facility in Florida, offering a full continuum of care from a patients’ arrival. In addition to medical detox and acute medical stabilization, we offer nutrition monitoring and medical intervention, inpatient, residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, sober housing accommodations, and aftercare.


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