Opioid Use and Pregnancy

Pregnant women are bound to experience pain in one form or another. The pain can range from aches and cramps to nerve pain that can last throughout the pregnancy. Treatment of this pain usually consists of pharmacological medications, including opioids. One study that examined 534,500 women enrolled in Medicaid found that 76,742 were dispensed an opioid at some point during their pregnancy, and 11,747 women were dispensed opioids three or more times during pregnancy.1
An important consideration when it comes to opioid use is that a multitude of factors determine how long an opioid remains in the body. These include the opioid that was taken, how much was prescribed, past history of opioid use, medical history, weight, gender, and more.2 One big major risk for newborns is feeling withdrawal symptoms from their mother’s opioid use during their time in the womb.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Every 19 minutes, a newborn is diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in the United States — that’s 80 newborns per day.3

We don’t know a lot about NAS, as it hasn’t been fully studied. What we do know is that its diagnosis in newborns has been on the rise since the opioid crisis turned into the opioid epidemic. Researchers have found that diagnosis of NAS increased substantially between 2010 and 2017.4 As the number of cases goes up, so does the cost associated with treatment. Newborns can face up to an 11-day hospital stay and parents can rack up almost $8,200 in charges, which is almost 8 times the increase in costs compared to most newborn stays.5

Woman who could bear a child with NAS symptoms include the 21,000 women in the 15 to 44 age group that have misused opioids during pregnancy,6 as well as women taking opioids to treat short-term pain after a surgery or accident and unknowingly conceived a child during that time period. Every scenario is possible when it takes a woman 4 to 7 weeks to find out she’s pregnant.

Talking to Your Doctor

If a woman is pregnant or is considering pregnancy and is prescribed opioids by a doctor, the best thing for her to do is to talk to her doctor about the risks associated with opioid use and any other alternative treatments that are available for pain relief. 

  • Work with your doctor – create a plan on how to manage your pain to make sure you are getting the safest, most effective pain management possible.
  • Discuss possible ways to manage your pain without opioids.
  • If it is determined that opioids are the best course of action, talk to your doctor about any and all side effects and concerns.
  • Carefully read the labels of all over-the-counter and prescription medicines you take and pay attention to any warnings on the labels.
  • Never take opioids in greater amounts or more often than prescribed.
  • Keep an up-to-date medication list and review all of the medications you are taking with your doctor at each visit. Be sure a family member, caregiver or close friend has a copy of the list.

1 Patterns of opioid utilization in pregnancy in a large cohort of commercial insurance beneficiaries in the United States 
2 How Long Do Opioids Stay In Your System? – Addiction Center 
3 Data and Statistics About Opioid Use During Pregnancy 
4 Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and Maternal Opioid-Related Diagnoses in the US, 2010-2017 
5 Data and Statistics About Opioid Use During Pregnancy 
6 Women of Childbearing Age and Opioids