Welcome to MCAC and congratulations on your pregnancy. We are here to help you have a healthy baby and to advocate for yourself as a woman who has chosen medically-assisted treatment for your opiate addiction.
Methadone is a synthetic opioid that can suppress drug cravings and prevent withdrawal symptoms, keeping both you and your baby safe during pregnancy.
Here are some important truths:
- Scientific evidence indicates that methadone is not harmful to a developing fetus.
- The National Institutes of Health has determined that methadone used during pregnancy is the safest medical practice and stabilizes the unborn child.
- There are over fifty years of medical research into methadone and pregnancy and no birth defects have been linked to its use.
- Methadone is administered under a physician’s care and daily monitoring by nurses and counselors provides needed support.
- Taking methadone during pregnancy may prevent miscarriage, fetal distress and premature labor.
- Decreasing the dosage of methadone or attempting to detox off opiates during the first trimester may increase the risk of miscarriage.
- When pregnant your metabolism changes which mean you might require a dose increase. This will not impact your unborn baby nor will the dose affect the severity of the baby’s withdrawal symptoms after birth.
- Your baby may or may not be born dependent on methadone. Your baby will not be born addicted. Addiction is a maladaptive impulse and behavior. Your baby might be physically dependent on methadone and might require treatment with miniscule amount of morphine to wean them off.
- Methadone does not cause fetal abnormalities.
- You can breastfeed your baby. Trace amounts of methadone in breast milk can pass to the baby, actually alleviating some symptoms.
Neonatal Withdrawal Syndrome will likely be experienced by the newborn though each baby is different. These symptoms can include:
- Rapid breathing
- Excessive crying
- Fussiness or restlessness
- Gastrointestinal issues
A knowledgeable physician will stabilize the baby and wean them off using a medication such as morphine. Morphine is a short-acting drug that allows the baby to be weaned off methadone in two or three weeks. If symptoms are minor a baby can be comforted in a quiet environment.
DO NOT ADMINISTER METHADONE TO YOUR BABY. EVEN A SMALL AMOUNT CAN SERIOUSLY HARM OR KILL YOUR BABY. LET YOUR DOCTOR MANAGE YOUR CHILD’S WITHDRAWAL.
BECOMING YOUR OWN ADVOCATE
One of the difficulties of taking methadone while pregnant is the lack of education and the stigma attached to medically-assisted treatment. There is bias in the medical field about the use of methadone during pregnancy and that means you will have to be your own best champion. We have included important, peer reviewed documents to help you educate those who might be in your medical team.
- You will probably be told that you have “traded one drug for another.” In fact, heroin, pharmaceuticals, and methadone are very different. Heroin is semi-synthetic, fast-metabolizing, addictive (in that tolerance levels change), and euphoric. Pharmaceutical narcotics are both fast and slow metabolizing but highly addictive and euphoric. Methadone is fully-synthetic, slow-metabolizing, dependent rather than addictive, and non-euphoric. It also requires daily monitoring with nursing staff and behavior modification with counseling.
- Include your family and significant other in counseling. It is important that those closest to you understand and support your decision to protect your unborn baby by using physician-prescribed methadone during your pregnancy.
- Do not be pushed into detoxing immediately after giving birth. Being a new mother is not the time to address your addiction. Give yourself time.
- Find an ob-gyn who is knowledgeable about medically-assisted treatment.
- Nurses and social workers at the hospital might lack exposure to methadone and might judge. Be patient but firm and make choices for your baby based on your wisdom, your instinct and what you know are best medical practices.
The National Institute of Drug Abuse and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (SAMHSA) recommend the use of methadone during pregnancy to ensure stability for a mother and for her unborn baby.