It might be a little redundant to say that babies whose mothers took methadone while pregnant were exposed to drugs during pregnancy. Methadone is a synthetic analgesic drug that is used as a substitute to treat morphine and heroin addiction. Even if mothers are not actively on heroin or other opiates, methadone has its own consequences when taken while pregnant.
A small study published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood Fetal & Neonatal Edition revealed that mothers who take methadone while pregnant are also, unfortunately, more likely to also be using more drugs on top of their prescribed dose. Though the ideal situation would be for mothers to not have children at all while they are dependent on hard drugs or methadone, oftentimes the mothers don’t necessarily plan on pregnancy.
The most notable side effect of taking methadone while pregnant is that the babies will be born addicted to methadone. The University of Washington Academic Medical Center says that babies born addicted to methadone will not actually experience the withdrawal symptoms until 5 to 10 days after birth. When they do start experiencing withdrawal, they experience tremors, muscle jerkiness, and rapid breathing. Also, babies might sleep less while withdrawing as well and they can develop sneezing, sweating, fevers, and congestions. The intensity of the withdrawal period is not decided by the dosage of methadone the mother was prescribed.
On top of this, many mothers prescribed methadone while pregnant also have children born on other drugs as well. The study interviewed 56 mothers who were on methadone maintenance during pregnancy. After giving birth, their urine, as well as their infant’s urine, was tested to see what the level of exposure to drugs and alcohol was in the womb. The tested samples revealed not only methadone, but high levels of opiates, benzodiazepines, cannabinoids, amphetamines, and alcohol.
91% of the babies tested were exposed to opiates, 73% were exposed to benzodiazepines, 14% to amphetamines and 47% had high levels of fatty acid ethyl esters, which are by-products of alcohol ingestions and suggest that the mothers drank more than 2 units a day or more than 5 units at once.
Though the use of drugs and alcohol during pregnancy will vary depending on the region or even country, the damaging effects are undeniable. Though many women refuse to seek help for addiction problems during pregnancy for fear of custodial and legal consequences, it’s important that they seek help nonetheless if only for the sake of giving their children the best chance at life possible.
- L. McGlone, H. Mactier, H. Hassan, G. Cooper. In utero drug and alcohol exposure in infants born to mothers prescribed maintenance methadone. Archives of Disease in Childhood - Fetal and Neonatal Edition, 2013; DOI:10.1136/archdischild-2013-304158
- BMJ-British Medical Journal (2013, July 8). Most babies born to mothers on methadone exposed to several illicit drugs in womb. ScienceDaily.
- Canaan, A. (2010, August 11). Effects of taking methadone while pregnant | LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM - Lose Weight & Get Fit with Diet, Nutrition & Fitness Tools | LIVESTRONG.COM.