Opioid Use During Pregnancy: Is It Safe?

Opioid addiction and overdose are some of the most dangerous effects of using opioids during pregnancy.
Opioid Use During Pregnancy: Is It Safe?

Last update: 20 July, 2021

Nowadays, opioids are among the most common medications people use. These are very powerful drugs people use to treat pain. Actually, doctors prescribe them to people who suffer from different types of cancer, severe trauma, or post-surgery. This is why we’ll talk about opioid use during pregnancy. Is it safe?

Future moms may suffer from these conditions, too. However, they may also become addicted to this type of medicine. Therefore, in this article, we’ll give you the basic information regarding opioid use and its consequences. Continue reading!

Opioid use during pregnancy: what are they and why do people use them?

The word opioid refers to a group of substances that are able to stimulate certain structures called opioid receptors, which are plentiful within the nervous system. These structures play physiological roles, such as regulating pain.

Opioid use.

This is why people use opioids to alleviate pain. In fact, nowadays, these are the most powerful analgesic known. As a result, specialists save them for people with severe chronic pain. Besides, they may cause dependency after their continuous use.

Some of the most common medications that derive from this substance are morphine, codeine, and fentanyl. Heroine (an illegal drug) is also able to stimulate opioid receptors. This is why it was used as medication at first, but then, it was forbidden.

Find out more: Medications that Should Be Avoided During Pregnancy

Can I have health problems after using opioids?

Even though opioids alleviate chronic pain, they may cause other health problems. Of course, this usually happens after continuous use, when people start developing dependence.

What does this mean? This means that any patient, even pregnant women, will need larger doses of the same drug in order to alleviate their symptoms. Since this excessive consumption is a natural consequence, sooner or later there’ll be toxic concentrations in the blood of the patient.

In a publication from the World Health Organization (WHO), during 2007, 115,000 people died due to opioids overdose. In many cases, when people overdose, the part of their brains that controls breathing becomes affected, and respiratory depression can be deadly.

Opioid use during pregnancy: can it affect my baby?

According to an article from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, many negative effects can affect intrauterine development. Some of these effects are congenital malformations of the nervous, cardiovascular or gastrointestinal system (including gastroschisis development). In addition, opioid use may cause preterm birth and spontaneous abor tion. 

Furthermore, since opioids are able to go through the placenta, they affect the fetus’ nervous system. After babies are born, they stop receiving these substances, and they may end up suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome. 

In this case, the baby’s body reacts in response to the absence of the drugs. This is a very serious disease, which can last for months and cause irritability and convulsions. 

Find out more: What Is the Apgar Test and Why Is It So Important?

Alternatives to opioid use during pregnancy

Morphine to alleviate pain.

If you already suffer from a chronic disease before getting pregnant, your doctor will probably try to come up with different alternatives to avoid opioids excessive consumption. These alternatives may include reducing the doses, prescribing other drugs, physical or psychological therapy, and even trying alternative medicine.

If this is the case, you should think about cost and benefit before starting or changing the treatment. This is why prenatal care is so important. In fact, sometimes, it includes family planning before conceiving.

Did you know that taking folic acid for a few months before getting pregnant can reduce congenital neurological malformations? These are defects from the neural tube, which include complex diseases, such as spina bifida.

In the case of patients who suffer from chronic diseases, such as cancer, and require this type of medication, a visit to the doctor before getting pregnant could be a good idea. As a result, they’ll get to know all the possible risks before starting this new adventure.

Opioids can be quite dangerous

These medications can be very useful and effective when patients take them in proper doses and under medical care. If this isn’t the case, the chances of developing complications can increase enormously. Therefore, if you need to take this medicine or you think you may suffer from addiction to it, talk to your obstetrician and ask them all the questions you need.


This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.