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Substance Abuse in Pregnancy

Help for Addicted Women During Pregnancy

Opioid abuse and addiction doesn’t discriminate. It affects the young and the old regardless of income or education. Sometimes it’s the result of street drugs like heroin. Other times, it creeps up on those taking prescription drugs like Percocet and Vicodin for chronic pain. No matter what the reason, it’s important to remember that addiction is a disease – just like diabetes and heart disease – and it deserves attention and treatment. That’s why obstetricians at LVPG Obstetrics and Gynecology are actively working to provide treatment to women caught in the clutch of addiction during pregnancy.

Women who use street drugs, abuse prescription medicine or other substances during pregnancy put their babies at risk for dependence themselves. It’s called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), and it occurs when babies are born dependent to the drugs their mothers use during pregnancy. Symptoms can include trembling, seizures, poor feeding and sucking, vomiting or diarrhea and other symptoms. Pregnant women are also at higher risk for miscarriage, preterm labor and low birthweight babies.

“We’re seeing more cases of NAS every year in our neonatal intensive care unit (NICU),” says obstetrician-gynecologist Courtney Boyle, DO of LVPG Obstetrics and Gynecology–Pond Road. “In 2016, 33 babies were born addicted to drugs. Our goal is to create a non-judgmental environment where women can feel safe getting treatment so they and their babies can live happy, healthy lives.”

Boyle and her colleagues at LVPG Obstetrics and Gynecology provide treatment for addicted mothers that includes:

  • A safe, supportive atmosphere where pregnant women and their babies can get the best care possible
  • Education to support women in making good decisions for her health and her baby’s health
  • Resources to help connect pregnant women to inpatient and outpatient treatment programs
  • Referrals for therapies to help women withdraw from drugs safely during pregnancy
  • Counselors to help women address emotional and behavioral causes of addiction

Babies born to addicted moms often experience withdrawal symptoms a few days to a week after birth. Specialty care in the NICU can include intravenous fluids for dehydration caused by vomiting or diarrhea, medication for seizures, additional calories due to increased activity, extra comfort measures to address irritability and crying, and other measures.

“Women are often more motivated to change behaviors during pregnancy,” says Boyle. “Detoxing on their own puts them at risk for relapse and early miscarriage. It’s important for families to be supportive of the physician-approved treatment plan, which is the standard of care for addiction during pregnancy.”

Evidence shows that medication assisted treatment produces good results for moms and their babies. Methadone and buprenorphine help block receptors that cause drug cravings. They also block reward centers so women don’t feel the pleasurable effects of drugs.

“It’s important to create an environment of trust between the patient and her care team,” Boyle says. “Removing the stigma gives patients the confidence to ask for help. Once we know what’s going on in her life we can provide the best possible care so she can create a healthy environment once baby goes home.”