Drug Treatment for Pregnant Women

07 Feb Drug Treatment for Pregnant Women

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If you’re researching drug treatment for pregnant women, it’s likely that you’re battling a heroin addiction or you know a loved one who is. If this is the case, we recommend contacting one of our recovery advisors right away.Not only is heroin addiction extremely difficult to beat on your own, battling a heroin addiction while pregnant puts a ton of extra stress on the mother and the baby and can result in a whole host of dangerous (and even life-threatening complications).

But first, you may be wondering, what exactly is heroin?

Heroin is an opioid, meaning it works on the opiate system in the brain. It’s defined as a central nervous system depressant and is known for its serious risk of addiction and overdose.

During the last decade, we’ve gone through what some health care officials call a national epidemic of heroin addiction. This has left us with an estimated 100,000 heroin-dependent women of childbearing age.

In fact, it’s estimated that around 10,000 heroin-dependent babies are born each year.

While it’s true that heroin dependence during pregnancy mostly affects a small demographic (primarily young, single women from minority ethnic group), the effects can be devastating for a family or community.

In this article we’ll cover:

  • Complications of heroin addiction in pregnant women.
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and what it is.
  • The research surrounding addiction treatment for pregnant women.

Of course, as we said, if you’re addicted to heroin, you should pick up the phone right away and call one of our recovery advisors at (678) 967-3957.

The same goes if you suspect a loved one of taking heroin.

If you want to arm yourself with more information on heroin addiction, recovery, and just how dangerous using heroin is while pregnant, continue reading.

Medical Complications of Heroin Dependence While Pregnant

There are tons of complications from heroin use and addiction. Some of these are from the chemical itself, while others are from risk factors associated with heroin use and abuse.

These complications of substance abuse skyrocket with a pregnant woman. This is because of the vulnerable condition pregnancy puts on both the mother and the infant.

We’ve listed just some of the complications below.

Lack of Personal Care

Any of you who’ve carried a baby or known someone who has will know that preparing for a pregnancy is a huge part of ensuring the optimal health and safety of both the mother and child.

This is what is called “prenatal care”. This includes dialing in your nutrition (such as taking prenatal supplements), avoiding x-rays, and avoiding toxins in your life and environment.

Because heroin-dependence causes a diversion of energy in order to feed the addiction, many pregnant heroin users will avoid or neglect to prepare for pregnancy properly.

In fact, some may even become malnourished due to not spending enough time or money shopping for food.

It’s estimated that 75 percent of pregnant heroin addicts give birth without prenatal care. It’s no surprise therefore that heroin-dependent babies have a four times higher risk of neonatal death than the rest of the population.

Infection & Disease

This can be related to the above. If an addict is neglecting their personal care, they may have poor hygiene or even avoid disinfecting a cut.

More commonly, however, heroin addicts get infectious diseases from sharing contaminated needles. Hepatitis is extremely common among heroin addicts and can result in premature birth or miscarriage.

In addition, many heroin addicts turn to prostitution to feed their addiction. This can result in the spread of dangerous venereal diseases.

Growth Retardation & Premature Birth

These two, especially when seen together, are the leading cause of infant death. Because heroin use is known to cause both of these symptoms, taking heroin while pregnant puts the baby at a huge risk of death.

In addition, a baby born underweight or premature that does survive will be at an increased risk of issues that can affect them for their entire life.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)

In addition to the above birth defects, 75 percent of babies born to heroin-addicted mothers will suffer from what’s called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

NAS is akin to withdrawal symptoms from heroin, only it’s happening to a newborn. NAS isn’t a disease in itself, but a grouping of conditions. The leading cause of NAS is addiction to opiates, such as heroin.

Not only is this extremely sad, but it can also cause many long-term effects and problems, even death. These include:

  • Seizures: In addition to seizures, which can be dangerous and life-threatening for the baby, NAS may cause shaking, tremors, overactive reflexes, twitching, and tense muscles.
  • Respiratory problems: Babies with NAS may suffer from respiratory problems, setting the baby up for a lifetime of medical conditions.
  • Feeding difficulties: This can include the inability to nurse or poor weight gain.
  • Flu-like symptoms: NAS can cause symptoms ranging from blotchy skin to fevers to diarrhea and throwing up. No matter what, NAS will put a ton of stress on a baby’s body.

So, now that you know some of the issues with heroin-dependence during pregnancy, you probably want to know just what will happen during recovery.

The most effective way to recover is to begin your recovery process with trusted detox specialists in specialized treatment programs. Call our recovery advisors today to find out the best option for you or your loved one.

Drug Treatment for Heroin Addicted Mothers

Research has shown that certain treatments are very effective for the recovery of pregnant women (and their babies).

For example, certain medications, such as methadone, are known to ease the recovery of addicted mothers. While it’s true methadone can cause complications for the baby, it’s generally considered safer than allowing heroin addiction to continue or for the mother to quit “cold turkey” (more on that below).

However, it’s important to know that if a mother is undergoing methadone treatment, their baby will likely be born with a methadone dependence. This means the infant will require a withdrawal period, which should be closely monitored by hospital staff.

More recently, a medication for opioid dependence called buprenorphine has been shown to produce fewer NAS symptoms than methadone. This means the infant will have shorter withdrawal and recovery times, resulting in shorter hospital stays.

You should definitely talk to your doctor and one of our recovery advisors before making any decisions. Only a medical professional with an understanding of your situation and medical history will be able to make an informed decision.

While the specific therapeutic options will vary depending on an individual basis, it’s important to remember that many pregnant women kick their heroin addiction with the help of medication, recovery treatment, and counseling or therapy.

Though not easy, the road to recovery is paved with many helping hands. Call
Georgia Detox today to talk to our Recovery Specialists to see which steps you or your loved one should take.

If you’re a pregnant mother dependent on heroin, you may be wondering, “With all these bad side effects, should I quit right away?”

The answer to this question involves many factors, including your history of drug use, medical history, the stage of the pregnancy, and many others. That’s why we always recommend talking to a doctor or recovery advisor before making any decisions.

We’ll talk more about quitting cold turkey in the section below.

Should I Quit Cold Turkey?

You may think that quitting heroin immediately would be the best option for a mother dependent on heroin, but the truth is, it’s not always that easy.

This is because when a heroin addiction is severe, due to the amount used or the length of a time a user has been addicted, withdrawal symptoms can be quite intense for the mother and her unborn baby.

Sometimes, the fetus won’t be able to tolerate the withdrawal effects and may have complications, such as premature birth or even death.

Quitting cold turkey is dangerous and also very, very difficult. The research shows that most users addicted to drugs don’t recover without the help and guidance of a drug treatment center.

It’s also important to keep in mind that being a potential mother can be a huge motivational force for a person to end their drug habit.

But when a pregnant mother is heroin-dependent, she’s not the only one that has to recover. After birth, the baby has to withdraw and recover depending on the severity of the dependence.

In the next section, we’ll cover how a baby will be tested for NAS (Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome) and how it will be treated if necessary.

Testing a Baby for NAS

Though the tests given may differ depending on the doctor or healthcare provider, there are a few basic ones that are commonly used.

These include:

  • Neonatal abstinence scoring system: This is a system developed to diagnose and give insight into the treatment of babies born with NAS. In this test, the doctor or healthcare provider gives points for each NAS symptom, with more severe symptoms receiving higher point scores. The score will then be used to help determine what kind of treatment is needed.
  • Meconium test: Meconium is the first bowel movement a baby makes. Though similar to feces, meconium actually begins to develop between the 12th and 16th week of gestation. Meconium tests are used to determine if a mother was using drugs during pregnancy. It also helps with determine if multiple drugs were used, and if so, which ones.
  • Urine test: Though sometimes not used because of the difficulty of collecting a urine specimen, urine tests can be used to determine if a mother used drugs in the few days prior to delivery.

Depending on the severity of the symptoms, the doctor may order more tests to assist them in diagnosis. With a diagnosis in hand, they’ll begin to formulate a treatment plan.

Treating a Baby for NAS

Once a doctor has assessed the extent of NAS, they’ll usually prescribe some of the following:

  • Medication: If a baby is determined to be experiencing withdrawal symptoms, they’re usually given some form of medicine to diminish withdrawal effects. Over time, the amount given will be reduced. These medicines include morphine, methadone, and buprenorphine.
  • IV’s: Dehydration is a major risk for babies born with NAS. In fact, dehydration is often a cause of neonatal death. Because of this, the doctor will usually order an IV to provide hydration through fluids and electrolytes. The risk of dehydration increases if a baby born with NAS is vomiting or experiencing diarrhea.
  • High-calorie formula: In some cases, a baby may need to drink high-calorie formula to put on weight. This is usually the case when a baby suffered from intrauterine growth retardation or premature birth.

In addition to medical care, babies born with NAS also need a lot of love. They had a stressful and traumatic introduction to this world, so every bit of extra care and attention they can get is much needed and deserved.

Plus, babies suffering from NAS are often fussy. If you find yourself caring for a baby that suffers from NAS, make sure to do the following to soothe them:

  • Swaddle them: Most babies love being swaddled in a blanket. Make them snuggly to get ready for nap time.
  • Give them kangaroo care: Kangaroo care is also called skin-to-skin care. This is where you let them lay on your chest.
  • Breastfeed: Though high-calorie formula may be used as a supplement, you should also breastfeed (if possible) to build intimacy with your baby.
  • Give them a quiet environment: Make sure you keep the room they stay in dimly lit and quiet.

Though experiencing heroin and pregnancy is difficult, with a little help, it’s possible to get through it.

If you’re heroin-dependent or know a loved one who is, call our recovery specialists at (678) 967-3953 to get help immediately.

If you want to know more about the horrors of heroin addiction, continue reading about What Happens to Your Body During a Heroin Overdose.


“Drug & Alcohol Rehab Centers for Pregnant Women.” American Addiction Centers.” 15 Mar. 2019. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/pregnant-women

Patterson, Eric. “Drugs and Pregnancy.” Drugabuse.com. 15 Mar. 2019. https://drugabuse.com/drug-addiction-health-issues/pregnancy/

Yonkers, Kimberly. “A Treatment for Substance Abusing Pregnant Women” NCBI. 27 May 2011. 15 Mar. 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3103065/

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