The numbers of women addicted to opiates in pregnancy has quadrupled over the past 15 years. The data comes from a study recently published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This sharp spike in rates of use among pregnant women reflects the overall nationwide increase in opiate addiction.

Obviously addiction to any substance is unsafe during pregnancy. From drinking to doing heroin, any addictive substance puts the unborn baby at risk. These developing stages are some of the most pivotal times in a child’s life. Ingesting drugs and alcohol can wreak havoc on the body of a fully developed adult; imagine how they impact a fetus.

Not all people who use opiates struggle with an opiate addiction, though. Is it safe to use any amount of opiates in pregnancy? Continue reading to learn more about the impact of opiates and other opioid drugs on pregnant women and the baby.

What Are Opiates?

Opiates are a type of drug that come from opium in poppy plants. They attach to opioid receptors in the brain, responsible for the sensation of pain. Because of this, these drugs are known for their pain relieving qualities as well as their euphoric effects.

Heroin is one of the most notorious opiates available. Opioids are another type of opiate and usually refer to synthetic forms of the drug, like prescription painkillers. Examples of opioid drugs include:

  • Morphine
  • Fentanyl
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco)
  • Buprenorphine (Buprenex, Butrans)

Some studies show that nearly a third of people with a prescription of painkillers misuse them. Additionally, about 4 to 6 percent of people who use prescription painkillers transition to using heroin. But approximately 8 out of 10 people who use heroin started misusing painkillers first.

Opioids are arguably the most addictive drug available. What often starts as a prescription for a medical procedure may grow into something more serious. When painkillers become too expensive to afford or entirely inaccessible, heroin is an affordable alternative.

Side Effects of Opiate Use

Opiates and opioids relieve pain, slow your breathing, and provide an overall sense of wellbeing and euphoria. These calming qualities are what get people hooked. They seem to soften the world around you and make things feel “okay.”

Although they may feel nice while using them, coming off of opiates is a different story. You experience the opposite effects when you stop using them. Your sensitivity to pain heightens and your mood plummets.

When you use opiates for a long period of time then stop suddenly, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms. Your body becomes used to the effects of the drugs. Withdrawals are both physical and psychological and range from minor to severe. Side effects of opiate withdrawals include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Frustration, irritability, or anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

In more serious cases, opiate withdrawals cause body tremors or seizures and may even be fatal. If these symptoms occur in a fully grown adult, imagine what they do to the child of women who
use opiates in pregnancy.

Is it Safe to Take Opiates in Pregnancy?

Opioids are strong drugs even when taken under the care and direction of a doctor. Many suggest not using painkillers while pregnant. If your doctor feels comfortable prescribing them during your pregnancy, be sure to take them only as prescribed. Taking anything more could harm you or the baby.

Severe complications may occur when you take opiates in pregnancy. The chemicals in the opiates impact the way the growing fetus develops. There are a number of problems seen in children born to women who use opiates while pregnant.

Low Birthweight

Babies who weigh less than 5 pounds and 8 ounces at birth are considered “low birthweight” babies. Their small size makes it challenging to fight off early infections and may result in more serious complications as a result.

Birth Defects

Some birth defects common in babies born to women who use opiates in pregnancy include spina bifida or heart defects. These defects are present from the time of birth and the impacts persist throughout their life.

Premature Birth

Any baby born before the pregnancy reaches full term (or 37 weeks) arrives prematurely. Babies born prematurely do not receive the amount of time in the womb necessary to fully develop. The earlier the baby arrives, the greater the complications.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (or NAS) refers to a baby who experiences withdrawal symptoms after delivery. If a mother uses opiates in pregnancy or other substances, the baby also receives them through the umbilical cord. They experience withdrawal symptoms similar to an addict in early recovery hen cut off from the supply of substances.


In extreme cases, some mothers experience a miscarriage when the baby dies in her womb before reaching 20 weeks.

Seeking Help for Opiate Use

If you struggle with using opiates in pregnancy, seeking addiction treatment is the safest option for both you and the baby. You put not only yourself but your baby in danger you quit using drugs without the help of medical professionals. Seek treatment at a qualified facility such as Hawaii Island Recovery.

You likely have many feelings surrounding your experience but there is help for you if you seek it. Give yourself and your child the best chance at life. Call 877-721-3556 today to find out what options are available to you.