Methadone is a medication that prevents opioid withdrawal symptoms and reduces drug cravings. Methadone is considered a form of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and is often prescribed for people who are addicted to heroin.
Methadone blocks the effects of opioids like heroin. While there is a risk of withdrawal, it’s safer for pregnant women to take methadone as prescribed than continuing to use heroin. If a woman is prescribed methadone during pregnancy, the medication should help with heroin withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. However, methadone may lead to withdrawal symptoms of its own once the baby is born.
It’s important to note that methadone is recommended as part of a multi-treatment approach to heroin addiction. Along with methadone, peer support groups and individual counseling should be offered. At Vertava Health’s methadone treatment facilities, we provide medication-assisted treatment along with various forms of therapy at rehab centers across the U.S.
Can Methadone Use Affect Pregnancy?
Yes. Methadone is known to cross the placenta, which means it directly impacts the developing baby. While the baby may suffer from neonatal abstinence syndrome, methadone-based MAT is a much safer alternative than using heroin or prescription pills while pregnant.
Research states that taking opioids while pregnant can lead to serious medical consequences for both mother and baby. However, up to 29 percent of women fill an opioid prescription while pregnant. Fortunately, methadone provides an alternative for pregnant women who are dependent on opioids.
If a woman begins using methadone while pregnant, she should not stop or alter her dosage without consulting a doctor. Pregnant women who stop taking methadone abruptly will likely experience withdrawal symptoms. This could also have an adverse effect on the baby’s health.
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Methadone Dosing During Pregnancy
Women’s bodies change significantly during pregnancy, especially in the area of metabolism and body fat percentage. Some studies found that because of these normal changes, pregnant women who took their regular dose of methadone were still experiencing opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Some research has suggested that methadone doses should be increased during pregnancy, to combat the onset of maternal withdrawal symptoms. However, other studies have found that introducing split doses helped pregnant women avoid withdrawal.
A split-dose is just what it sounds like. The full dose is split in half and given at 12-hour intervals. For example, if a pregnant woman was on 30 milligrams of methadone per day, she would get 15 milligrams at 7 AM and 15 milligrams at 7 PM.
Studies have shown that a person’s dose of methadone has no bearing on whether or not the baby experiences withdrawal. Thus, there is not one specific way to take methadone while pregnant. The healthiest choice for expectant mothers is to speak with a doctor about the treatment options they have while pregnant.
Effects Of Using Methadone During Pregnancy
Just like other medications, methadone can lead to potential side effects. When taken as directed, methadone can cause flushing or dry mouth.
If a person adjusts their dose or takes the drug other than how it’s prescribed, they may experience worsened side effects. Taking the drug other than how it’s directed is considered substance abuse, and could lead to pregnancy complications.
Additional side effects of methadone include:
- weight gain
- sore tongue
- stomach pain
- difficulty urinating
- changes in vision
- problems swallowing
- mood disturbances
- trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- physical dependence (a person may experience withdrawal symptoms if medication is stopped)
Methadone’s side effects may affect some people more than others. If you have questions about how methadone is interacting with your body or pregnancy, make sure to discuss any concerns with your prescribing doctor.
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (Withdrawal)
Women who take methadone throughout their pregnancy may have a baby born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). While watching a baby experience methadone withdrawal can be difficult, it’s much less risky than exposing a developing fetus to heroin (or other opioids).
Methadone withdrawal is known to be uncomfortable, even for adults. For a newborn baby, withdrawal symptoms can be especially difficult. Babies going through methadone or other opioid withdrawal should be monitored by a healthcare professional.
Symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome (withdrawal) include:
- abnormal sleep
- high-pitched cry
- failure to gain weight
- rapid breathing
- difficulty latching (for breastfeeding mothers)
- tremors (uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body)
Infant withdrawal usually begins a few days after the baby is born, but could also begin two to four weeks after birth. Sometimes, a quiet and comfortable environment is enough to soothe a baby’s withdrawal symptoms. In severe cases, medication may be necessary.
It’s not too late to get help for you or your baby. With the right support, many women have successfully detoxed from methadone and watched their babies develop normally.
Methadone Withdrawal And Detox
When people take methadone for a length of time, it results in physical dependence. This means their body needs the drug in order to function properly. If a person stops using suddenly, they will likely experience withdrawal. This can pose a risk to both mother and baby.
Symptoms of methadone withdrawal may include:
- watery eyes
- vomiting and diarrhea
- muscle and joint pain
- abdominal cramps
These symptoms can be especially risky for pregnant women. The safest way to get off methadone is through the help of a medical detox program.
At Vertava Health, we provide customized treatment plans for women who are pregnant. Each patient is given the compassionate support they need to do what is best for them and their child. Our medically supervised detox programs also offer fetal monitoring, tapering schedules, and evidence-based counseling.
Getting Treatment For Methadone Dependence And Withdrawal During Pregnancy
Methadone use during pregnancy should be monitored by a doctor and treatment team. Although this drug can lead to neonatal withdrawal symptoms, it is safer than continuing to use heroin while pregnant.
Some women may want to get off methadone for good. Fortunately, there are specialized treatment programs for pregnant women and new mothers. At Vertava Health rehab facilities, patients are given nonjudgmental care in a supportive treatment environment.
Our treatment staff pride themselves in offering compassionate care. While in an Addictions Campuses rehab program, patients have access to state-of-the-art medical care, parenting classes, support groups, and mental health counseling.
To learn more about methadone use during pregnancy, or to explore treatment options near you, reach out to one of our specialists today. Call us at 615-208-2941.