People with addiction to opioids and other substances face stigma at every turn.
Now imagine what it’s like when someone is pregnant while dealing with an addiction. It’s no wonder that so many expecting women hide their addiction instead of getting help.
Many pregnant women are afraid and embarrassed to seek treatment for addiction to opioids or other substances. This only makes things worse for mothers and their unborn babies.
If you’re pregnant and addicted to drugs or alcohol, here’s a Mother’s Day message of support:
There is hope for you and your baby, and progress with your recovery can be quicker than you might expect.
The first step is to stop being paralyzed by fear and start seeking outpatient medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
Babies born to mothers on medication treatment programs do as well as other babies. While it is not known for certain what long-term effects the exposure to addiction medication may have on babies, their health is much better than that of babies born to mothers who are using opioids like heroin. Thousands of healthy babies born to medication-maintained moms develop into normal children.
Related blog: Lilian's Story: Pregnant and Addicted to Opioids
How MAT helps pregnant women with addiction
Subutex (Buprenorphine) is a long-acting opioid medication used with counseling and other services to treat individuals addicted to short-acting opioid drugs. Appropriate medication treatment reduces or eliminates craving for opioid drugs, prevents the onset of withdrawal for 24 hours or more, blocks the effects of other opioids, promotes increased physical and emotional health, and raises the overall quality of life of the patient.
These benefits are the same for pregnant women as they are for other people, but they’re important in different ways.
Withdrawal for pregnant women is especially dangerous because it causes the uterus to contract and may bring on miscarriage or premature birth. By blocking withdrawal symptoms, medication treatment can save a baby’s life. Additionally, it can help women stop using needles, which is a primary route of infection for drug users.
Withdrawal effects on babies
Treatment while pregnant will not cause birth defects in babies, but some infants may go through withdrawal after birth. Withdrawal does not mean that a baby is addicted. Studies have shown that appropriate doses of medication have no bearing on whether a baby experiences withdrawal. Infant withdrawal usually begins a few days after a baby is born but may begin two to four weeks after birth.
Withdrawal symptoms may last several weeks and commonly include fussiness, not eating or sleeping well, vomiting, trembling or fever. Many times, a quiet, comfortable environment is enough to provide comfort to a baby. If the symptoms are severe, the baby’s doctor may prescribe medicine or other supports to help.
Once a baby is born, it's important to give Subutex or any other medications to the infant without a doctor’s approval. Even a small amount can be enough to seriously harm or even kill a baby. Let the child's doctor mange the baby’s withdrawal.
Child Protective Services (CPS)
In some communities, special programs offer services to mothers in recovery. The support and practical help which they provide can make a difference in day-to-day life for mother and child. Ask your local CPS whether such a program is available in your area.
Beginning a MAT program has the potential to trigger contact from CPS. This fear is why many women choose to try to quit using drugs on their own, which is rarely successful and leads to contact from CPS anyway.
It is far more advantageous to engage with CPS in a positive way while making steps with recovery than in a negative way when your addiction has created more problems. We at CleanSlate work with CPS to advocate on behalf of our pregnant patients so that they can preserve custody of their child or children while managing recovery through MAT.
CPS caseworkers want to see mothers provide a healthy, loving, and secure home for their children. But if you continue to use drugs, CPS caseworkers may question your ability to care for your child. Taking good care of a child demands alertness, attention, patience, and clear judgment. Improperly using drugs can affect all of these qualities.
Parenting can be hard and sometimes overwhelming. Misusing drugs doesn’t necessarily make you a bad parent, but it does make it harder to be a good parent. Continued drug use may make it necessary for your child to be removed from your home.
If the courts become involved, you may need to consult with a court-appointed attorney. Not all court officials understand that medication treatment programs are the recommended course of treatment for pregnant opioid-dependent women and that it reflects a mother’s commitment to living a sober and responsible life. Again, CleanSlate and other providers work to support patients so that they are not negatively impacted by taking steps towards recovery.
Every mother needs support: look to your doctor or treatment counselor for help. Remember that there are a host of resources and advocacy organizations available to provide support for medication treatment patients. Many of these resources can be found online at www.dpt.samhsa.gov.
For women who are not HIV-positive and who are on Subutex, breastfeeding is the best option. The benefits of breastfeeding often outweigh the effect of the tiny amount of Subutex that enters the breast milk, although you should still discuss this with your doctor. Women who are Hepatitis C-positive usually can breastfeed but should check with a doctor first.
If upon a doctor’s advice you choose to withdraw from Subutex to continue breastfeeding, it is important that you discuss this decision with your treatment provider to avoid potential return to drug use.
If you’ve been using opiates, such as heroin, or prescribed opiates, such as oxycodone or OxyContin, you may have stopped getting your period. This may cause you to think that you can’t get pregnant. If you’ve stopped getting your period, you actually may be pregnant. If you’re not sure, get a pregnancy test from a doctor, pharmacist, or community health center.
As you begin to use less opiates or start using Suboxone, your period likely will return, and your chances of getting pregnant will increase. Use birth control. It’s important that you wait until you’re completely drug free before you get pregnant. It is equally important that you do not drink any alcohol if you think you might be pregnant or already are pregnant. Alcohol use during pregnancy is the leading cause of preventable birth defects.
Get help today
Appropriate addiction medication is safe for your baby, helps you stop your drug use, and gives you a chance to take care of yourself. If you or someone who you know is pregnant and suffering from opioid addiction, CleanSlate will fast-track care for medication treatment. In many cases, we can see the patient on the same day, such as at our Greenwood, Indiana Addiction Treatment Center.
CleanSlate treats patients suffering from opioid or alcohol addiction with medications and a continuum of integrated care to support each individual's journey to recovery. If you know a pregnant woman who needs our help, please contact us immediately by calling our help line at 833-505-HOPE or visit our website at www.CleanSlateCenters.com to find the location nearest you.
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