Whether prescription or recreational, opioid use can increase your chances of complications before, during, and after childbirth.

These complications often link to frequent opioid use and not one-off use. A lack of research exists on the potentially harmful effects of one-off or infrequent opioid use during pregnancy.

If you have an opioid use disorder or are physically dependent on opioids, do not stop using opioids abruptly without medical supervision, as withdrawal can be harmful to you and your developing pregnancy.

As such, get medical help if you use opioids and find out (or think) you’re pregnant.

Opioid use can increase your risk of experiencing complications during pregnancy, including:

Using opioids may also increase your risk of pregnancy loss, whether a miscarriage or a stillbirth.

Note that opioid use, even occasional or infrequent use, can pose risks.

Opioid use during pregnancy can increase the risk of premature birth, which can lead to numerous health effects. A baby exposed to opioids before birth might also experience opioid withdrawal.

A baby born prematurely may experience the following complications:

  • difficulty feeding or latching
  • challenges regulating body temperature
  • low body weight and fat
  • movement and coordination limitations
  • trouble breathing

After birth, the baby might have temporary opioid withdrawal symptoms. This experience is called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

The symptoms of NAS include:

  • crying
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • reduced feeding
  • shaking and tremors
  • sleep difficulties

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, babies born with NAS don’t experience lasting physical or intellectual effects. NAS usually lasts days or weeks. Specific treatment methods can ease the discomfort.

Opioid use disorder is often treatable with opioid replacement medications like methadone and buprenorphine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these medications are usually safe during pregnancy.

Opioid replacement medications may reduce the withdrawal symptoms and cravings for opioids. In pregnancy, these treatments can lower the risk of your baby not growing properly or being born too early.

MAT can be highly effective at treating opioid use disorder and opioid dependence. It can be a significant step toward stopping opioid use.

Along with MAT, you can receive behavioral therapy, counseling, and prenatal care, all of which can help you care for your emotional and physical health throughout your pregnancy.

If you’re pregnant, talk with a healthcare professional about your opioid use. Even if you only use opioids infrequently, disclose this to a supportive healthcare professional.

Speaking with a healthcare professional is vital if you’re dependent on opioids or have opioid use disorder. Try to get help as soon as possible.

You can find support through a:

  • doctor or nurse
  • therapist or counselor
  • local drug treatment program

You can learn more through the following guides and articles:

You might also benefit from contacting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which offers resources and referrals to treatment. Call the 24/7 helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).

Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.