As the opioid epidemic continues to rage in the United States, more and more people are falling victim to these highly addictive and life-threatening drugs. Methadone management treatment (MMT) is proving to be a powerful weapon in the fight against opioid addiction. But is methadone safe for pregnant women? Here’s a closer look at MMT, pregnancy, and infant health and wellness.
What is MMT?
Methadone is one of only two opioids, alongside buprenorphine, with federal approval for treating opioid dependence and addiction. In use since the mid-1960s for opioid treatment, it can help relieve intense drug cravings, block the euphoric effects of opioids, and prevent symptoms of withdrawal. Ultimately, this treatment has been shown to help addicts overcome addiction and regain quality of life.
Opioid Addiction and Pregnancy
Before addressing the effects of methadone on pregnant women and developing babies, it is important to first look at the impact of opiate addiction itself on these vulnerable segments of the population. Explains Advocates for Pregnant Women: “Use of injection drugs during pregnancy is generally associated with poor nutrition and anemia, high risk of infectious diseases such as hepatitis and HIV, and inadequate prenatal care, as well as exposing the patient to significant risk of overdose.These consequences place both the expectant mother and the fetus at risk.”
While many women attempt to detox “cold turkey,” AKA without medication, thinking it is safer for themselves and the baby, this is not actually the case. Not only is there a significant risk of relapse, but withdrawal can trigger a number of particularly dangerous issues, including uterine contractions, miscarriage, and even early labor.
MMT and Pregnancy
Despite the proven benefits of MMT, it is natural to wonder whether introducing one opioid to detox from another is a wise choice, particularly when you factor in the added complications of pregnancy and addiction; however, “there is a scientific consensus recognized by US government authorities and researchers that methadone is safe and effective for the management of opioid dependence during pregnancy,” according to Advocates for Pregnant Women.
While MMT can save the lives of babies by blocking withdrawal symptoms from heroin and other opioids, babies of women who undergo MMT while pregnant may go through withdrawal. This does not mean that they are addicted to opioids or that they have birth defects. Symptoms of withdrawal, which may begin anywhere from a few days to four weeks after birth and last several weeks, may include fussiness, poor eating/sleeping, fever, vomiting, and trembling. These symptoms can be managed under the care of a doctor. It is also important to know that even if your baby does develop withdrawal symptoms, MMT is not linked with birth defects.
A Positive Prognosis for Mothers and Babies
The overall outlook is promising for babies born to women receiving MMT. Says the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA): “The good news is that babies born to mothers on methadone do as well as other babies. While it is not known for certain what long-term effects the exposure to methadone may have on babies, their health is much better than babies born to mothers on heroin. It can be reassuring to know that thousands of healthy babies born to methadone-maintained moms develop into normal children.”
Women who are on methadone can still breastfeed as long as they are not HIV-positive. Continues SAMHSA: “The benefits of breastfeeding often outweigh the effect of the tiny amount of methadone that enters the breast milk. Though breastfeeding generally is recommended, you should still discuss it with your doctor. If upon a doctor’s advice you choose to withdraw from methadone to continue breastfeeding, it is important that you discuss this decision with your treatment provider to avoid a potential return to drug use.”
We’re Here to Help
One last thing to keep in mind is that MMT is most effective when incorporated into a comprehensive drug treatment program that also includes behavioral counseling. To learn more about Harris House’s comprehensive substance abuse treatment programs for expecting mothers, contact us today!