Using Fentanyl During Pregnancy: Risk And Dangers

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 22, 2023

Using fentanyl during pregnancy or breastfeeding may pose several risks to both the mother and baby. Treatment options for fentanyl abuse include detox, counseling, and aftercare services.

Risks Of Using Fentanyl During Pregnancy

Fentanyl is a dangerous synthetic opioid that is prescribed to treat severe pain. Taking fentanyl while pregnant can result in severe side effects for the mother and baby.

Pregnancy complications such as low birth weight, preterm labor, and neonatal abstinence syndrome are among the many risk factors associated with the use of the drug during gestation.

Treatment services for fentanyl addiction may include detoxification, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), counseling, and other evidence-based therapies.

Is It Safe To Use Fentanyl While Pregnant?

Pregnant women who use fentanyl will transfer the drug and its effects to their fetuses. This may lead to an array of birth defects or complications during childbirth.

Low Birth Weight

Fentanyl can adversely affect the development of the fetus and may cause intrauterine growth restriction or low birth weight.

Low birth weight is defined as a baby who is born with a weight under 5.5 pounds. This may result in higher chances of infection, breathing problems, low oxygen levels, and trouble staying warm.

Preterm Labor

Preterm labor occurs when contractions result in the cervix opening between 20 to 37 weeks of pregnancy. This may result in premature birth, which can heighten the health risks for the baby.


Fentanyl is known to cause stillbirth, which is the death of a baby before or during delivery. Stillbirth can happen at any point after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Fetal Distress

Fetal distress is a sign that a baby is not well due to a lack of oxygen delivery through the placenta. Without treatment, the fetus may start to breathe in amniotic fluid.

Neonatal Respiratory Depression

Respiratory depression is one of the most serious side effects of opioid use and is the result of malformations in the lungs and respiratory function.

Symptoms of neonatal respiratory depression include bluish color of the skin, apnea (stopped breathing), nasal flaring, shallow breathing, shortness of breath, and grunting sounds.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)

NAS is a withdrawal syndrome that newborns experience after being exposed to prescription opioid analgesics such as hydromorphone, hydrocodone, tramadol, oxycodone, and fentanyl.

The signs of withdrawal may include:

  • body shakes
  • seizures
  • overactive reflexes
  • excessive crying from cravings
  • poor feeding or sucking
  • breathing problems
  • fever

Is It Safe To Use Fentanyl While Breastfeeding?

While the amounts of fentanyl that will transfer into breast milk are small, they will still affect the baby during breastfeeding.

Fentanyl use during breastfeeding may cause the baby to become very sleepy and have trouble latching on. In rare cases, babies may have trouble breathing, which can result in death.

It’s important to give your health care provider all the necessary health information before using any supplement or opioid drugs such as fentanyl or codeine while breastfeeding.

What Are The Side Effects Of Using Fentanyl While Pregnant?

Opioids such as fentanyl are typically prescribed for chronic pain relief for cancer patients and people recovering from surgery.

When misused during pregnancy, there are several physical and mental side effects that may occur.

Physical Side Effects

Opioid-dependent pregnant women will experience mild to severe physical side effects when using fentanyl.

Side effects may include:

  • constipation
  • slow breathing
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Mental Side Effects

Due to the way fentanyl abuse affects the brain and central nervous system, there is a range of mental side effects that may occur when the substance is abused by women who are pregnant.

Mental side effects may include confusion, sedation, unconsciousness, agitation, and a powerful sense of well-being and euphoria.

Treating Fentanyl Addiction During Pregnancy

Using fentanyl while pregnant is dangerous, but people can get help in the form of evidence-based and holistic therapies available at an addiction recovery center.

Addiction treatment programs may include:

  • medication-assisted treatment
  • medical detoxification
  • inpatient treatment
  • intensive outpatient programs (IOP)
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • support groups for people addicted to opiate drugs
  • holistic treatment options for opioid use
  • disorders
  • follow-up care
  • dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders

Some rehab centers will also offer specialized addiction treatment for pregnant women.

These facilities often offer residential treatment and prenatal care to women during pregnancy, followed by postnatal care to both the mom and the child after birth.

FAQs On Using Fentanyl During Pregnancy

The commonly asked questions below will help you learn more about how the use of opioid pain medications may affect pregnancy.

Fentanyl may not always cause complications, but the risk is very high. Any substance ingested by pregnant women is transferred to the fetus while in utero.

It can be safe to go through fentanyl withdrawal symptoms under the supervision of a clinician during pregnancy.

Attempting to go through opioid withdrawal cold turkey may be more dangerous and is not recommended.

Yes, some MAT programs are safe for pregnant women.

Recent studies show that substance abuse treatment using methadone or buprenorphine improves infant outcomes and results in higher gestational age, weight, and head circumference at birth.

Yes, there are several drug rehab programs that specialize in addiction treatment for women with children, pediatric services, and recovery care for pregnant women.

Contact the rehab facility of your choice to learn more about their policies surrounding pregnancy, as not all treatment centers can offer appropriate accommodations.

Find Substance Use Treatment Today

Call our helpline today to learn more about the adverse effects of fentanyl drug use during pregnancy. Our team can assist you or your loved ones in your journey to long-term recovery.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 22, 2023
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