The effects of opiates on the unborn baby
Ups and downs in opiates use are stressful for the unborn baby, possibly causing a lack of oxygen and slower growth. Or the mother’s heart rate or blood pressure can go up or go down rapidly which will affect the baby’s heart rate and blood pressure, too. Other risks related to opiate use include:

  • increase in miscarriage and stillbirth
  • higher risk of abruptio placenta (separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus)
Pregnant women who are using opiates should never withdraw from the drug completely. This can cause the unborn baby to seizure and die. Substitute drugs (like Subutex, Suboxone, and Methadone) must be given to help manage her pregnancy until the baby is born.

The effects of opiates when the baby is born
If pregnant women who use opiates are not given the appropriate care (including Subutex, Suboxone, and Methadone) the majority of babies whose mothers regularly use opiates can be born intoxicated or high. The babies will then experience a degree of withdrawal when they are born. This is called “neonatal abstinence syndrome” or NAS.

Withdrawal signs usually start within 48 to 72 hours after birth. Babies may require medication to help with the signs. Common signs of withdrawal are:

  • irritability
  • lots of crying
  • problems with sleeping, feeding, and settling down
  • stomach upset (gas cramps, spitting up, vomiting, diarrhea)
  • tense muscles
  • poor sleeping
Babies who are born in drug withdrawal need medical care. To give the right care, the woman’s doctor, nurses, and other health care team members need to know which drugs she took.

Other risks for the baby are:

  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • premature birth
  • smaller weight and head size at birth

As well as withdrawal signs at birth, some babies may have milder signs up to one year of age.

The effects of opiates as children grow
Despite withdrawal difficulties in the first year of life, children whose mothers took opiates during pregnancy can do well:

  • if the mother did not abuse other drugs
  • if the children are raised in a supportive environment
Want more information about opiate use during pregnancy? Check this out:


Pregnancy Related Issues in the Management of Addictions: Opiates