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5 Misconceptions About Methadone Use During Pregnancy

June 13, 2010 by admin 

When it comes to having a healthy and successful pregnancy, it is never a good idea to use drugs. But for pregnant women who are addicted to an opiate-based drug, such as heroin, there is actually something safer than quitting cold turkey: methadone.

Methadone is a synthetic opioid that can suppress drug cravings and prevent drug withdrawal syndromes, keeping both the mother and baby safe for the duration of the pregnancy. Methadone can be used during any stage of pregnancy, and should only be administered under close medical supervision at a methadone treatment center or residential treatment facility for drug addiction.

Many women may hesitate to use methadone during pregnancy, believing they are substituting one drug for another. While this may be true, the effects of methadone are much less damaging to a baby than many think.

Here are five misconceptions people have about using methadone during pregnancy:

1. The baby will be born with birth defects or experience developmental problems.

Mothers may be concerned that their children will have learning disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, decreased intellect or other disorders as a result of being exposed to methadone in utero. But there is no solid scientific evidence of any such negative effects on babies exposed to methadone. In fact, long-term studies have shown no significant effects on babies whose mothers use methadone while pregnant.

For those babies born with birth defects or developmental problems, the drug their mother was addicted to is likely to blame. The most critical period of development for a fetus is during the first trimester, and many women don’t realize they are pregnant at that point. For women addicted to drugs, that means they are still using and engaging in high-risk behaviors during this time, exposing their baby to drugs and their dangerous effects.

By the time pregnant women seek methadone treatment, they are usually in their second trimester, which is the safest time to administer the treatment.

2. The baby will become addicted to methadone.

Babies cannot become addicted to methadone. Addiction is characterized by a psychological and physical dependence on a drug. Because babies are unaware that they are being treated with methadone, they cannot develop anything more than a physical dependence on it. While the baby will likely experience discomfort while detoxing from methadone, they will never remember using the drug.

3. The baby will suffer during methadone withdrawal.

When a pregnant woman uses methadone, so does her baby. And, like an adult who has undergone methadone treatment, the baby will need to go through detox and withdrawal from the drug. While withdrawal is never a pleasant experience, doing so in a controlled environment can lessen the chance that the baby will suffer.

Babies whose mothers are addicted to drugs or use methadone will likely experience Neonatal Withdrawal Syndrome upon birth. Symptoms of the syndrome include rapid breathing, excessive crying, increased muscle tone, sneezing, yawning and gastrointestinal issues.

To ease the symptoms, and to more effectively wean babies off of methadone, a treatment center will stabilize the baby and wean them using a substance such as morphine. Morphine is a short-acting drug that allows babies to be more easily weaned off methadone in about two to three weeks.

What is unsafe is the alternative to not helping a baby withdraw from methadone. If left untreated, a baby will suffer and can experience dehydration, jaundice, diarrhea and seizures.

4. The higher the dosage of methadone, the worse the baby’s withdrawal symptoms.

There is actually no relationship between the strength of the dosage and the severity of a baby’s withdrawal symptoms. Because each person reacts to methadone differently, the determining factor is methadone’s effect on that particular baby.

The goal of methadone is to allow the woman to have an easier time during pregnancy and lessened withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings herself. That may mean upping the dosage as the pregnancy progresses, but women should be aware that that alone will have no effect on her baby’s withdrawal experience.

5. It’s okay to quit methadone cold turkey.

Of course, the best way to ensure a healthy baby and pregnancy is to not use any drugs at all. But for women who are being treated with methadone to get over a more damaging drug addiction, the absolute worst thing they can do is to reduce their dosage or stop use completely. Doing so can induce withdrawal symptoms in the baby and cause an unintended abortion.

Methadone can be used throughout pregnancy, and should be used for as long as the mother feels it is necessary. Through the support of medical staff and therapists at a methadone treatment center or residential treatment facility, women who gave birth will eventually be able to end their use of methadone and learn the skills to lead drug-free lives and raise happy and healthy babies.
by McKayla Arnold

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