Morphine and Pregnancy

Pregnant women should not use morphine unless it is prescribed to them by a doctor. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—the government agency that protects public health by ensuring that food, drugs, and other products are safe for consumption—considers morphine a pregnancy category C substance.

This category simply means that, although the effects of morphine on pregnancy have not been thoroughly researched, there are many risks that cannot be ruled out. As a result, the FDA recommends that pregnant women should avoid this powerful drug unless the benefits of use outweigh the risks for both them and their unborn children.

The FDA’s recommendations on morphine use during pregnancy are based on the assumption that the drug is being used for a medical need and taken according to a doctor’s instructions. Although the risks of medical morphine use during pregnancy are uncertain, abusing this drug can affect pregnancy. For instance, chronic use of morphine during late pregnancy may result in lasting health problems for an infant.

Effects of Morphine on Late Pregnancy

The chronic use of morphine during late pregnancy may lead to opiate withdrawal symptoms in the infant soon after labor and delivery.

Opiate withdrawal in newborns is known as neonatal withdrawal, and it often includes the following symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Hyperactivity
  • Abnormal sleep patterns
  • Abnormal crying
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Failure to gain weight

The severity of neonatal withdrawal depends on several factors, including the following ones:

  • Duration of the mother’s morphine use
  • Quantity and time of the mother’s last dose
  • Infant’s rate of elimination (the speed at which morphine leaves the newborn’s body)

In particularly severe cases, neonatal withdrawal can be fatal. In the delivery room, infants with neonatal withdrawal may suffer respiratory depression, which is treated with positive pressure ventilation to restore the babies’ color and heart rate. Infants with neonatal withdrawal are carefully monitored, and they may be given naloxone to prevent the seizures that result from abrupt withdrawal.

Naloxone can also lessen the severity of other withdrawal symptoms, which allows the infant to eat and sleep. These aspects promote healthy weight gain and interaction with caregivers, which promote healthy emotional and cognitive development. Mothers who are addicted to morphine should enter professional addiction treatment after giving birth and leaving the hospital.

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