How To Help A Pregnant Heroin Addict

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on December 29, 2021

Getting help for a pregnant heroin addict may involve finding addiction treatment programs that offer help to pregnant women, seeking social support, and getting proper prenatal care to ensure the safety of the mother and her child.

How To Help A Pregnant Heroin Addict

There are many important action steps to take specifically for pregnant women. A pregnant heroin addict* will experience unique challenges that need treatment and proper care.

Helping a pregnant heroin addict may involve addiction treatment, assisting her in finding prenatal care, and other important steps to increase the health of the mother and her child.

*Important note: We avoid stigmatic language such as ‘addict’, ‘heroin user,’ or ‘opioid-dependent person’ as much as possible. However, we will use this language in this article to inform and equip those struggling with drug use and their loved ones.

Learn more about how to help a struggling heroin addict

Talk About The Risks Of Using Heroin While Pregnant

Someone abusing heroin likely knows many of the potential risks of using the substance, but heroin abuse poses specific risks for pregnant women.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)

NAS is something that occurs in newborns who have been exposed to opioids in the womb.

This happens when a pregnant woman uses opioids. The opioid travels through the bloodstream and as a result, the baby will become dependent on the opioid.

With NAS, within a week of life a newborn baby may experience:

  • blotchy skin
  • diarrhea
  • excessive crying or high-pitched crying
  • excessive sucking
  • fever
  • poor feeding
  • rapid breathing
  • seizures
  • sleep problems
  • slow weight gain
  • stuffy nose
  • sneezing
  • sweating
  • trembling (tremors)
  • vomiting

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Harmful Effects On The Fetus

Fluctuating levels of opioids in a mother’s system can have harmful results on the unborn child. This exposes the fetus to repeated periods of withdrawal and harms the placenta.

Abusing heroin while pregnant can increase risks of:

  • poor fetal growth
  • placental abruption
  • preterm labor
  • fetal convulsions
  • the death of the fetus
  • untreated maternal infections (HIV, hepatitis)
  • malnutrition of the fetus
  • poor prenatal care
  • dangers conferred by drug-seeking lifestyle, including violence and incarceration

Discuss Treatment Options With Your Pregnant Loved One

Research to find addiction treatment programs and bring those options to her.

It’s important to find a treatment program that’s equipped to treat pregnant women.

Whether it’s a residential inpatient program or outpatient rehab, be sure they can treat a pregnant heroin addict.

Methadone And Buprenorphine Treatment For Pregnant Heroin Addicts

Methadone has been the standard of care for treating opioid-dependent pregnant women since 1998. This medication is safe to use while pregnant and while breastfeeding.

However, in recent years treatment with buprenorphine has shown to have similarly effective results. Both methadone and buprenorphine treatment are good options for pregnant addicts.

Benefits of opioid treatment for heroin-dependent pregnant women:

  • The medication will help to stabilize the level of opioids in the fetus’ system.
  • It will encourage the mother to seek quality prenatal care.
  • The baby is more likely to be born healthy, without complications.
  • Treating the pregnant woman will give her and her baby a better chance at long-term sobriety and stability.

Methadone and buprenorphine can be administered in inpatient and outpatient rehab programs.

The medication may also be administered at home, given the approval of a doctor.

Medical Detox

Quitting cold turkey or detoxing at home can be very dangerous, especially for a pregnant woman.

An unborn child needs as much stability as possible, and ceasing opioids suddenly can result in life-threatening conditions for the mother and the child.

Encourage a pregnant heroin addict to go through medical detox to ensure a safe and monitored detox from heroin. These medically supervised programs usually last for seven to 10 days.

Help A Pregnant Heroin Addict To Find Prenatal Care

A pregnant woman who’s addicted to heroin may need help finding prenatal care, which can be found in a treatment facility or an outside program.

Often the health of the unborn child is disregarded when a woman is addicted to heroin. This is not necessarily of her own choosing, but a result of the powerful nature of addiction.

But at this time, the health of the baby should be a top priority, especially if she has not been receiving proper care thus far.

Find Emotional Support For A Pregnant Heroin Addict

There should be an emphasis on the emotional and mental wellbeing of a pregnant woman who’s abusing heroin and trying to come off the substance.

Support for a pregnant heroin addict may include:

  • counseling
  • support groups with other pregnant heroin addicts or mothers of newborns
  • narcotics anonymous (NA) meetings

Find Treatment To Help A Pregnant Heroin Addict

If you or someone you love are pregnant and struggling with heroin use, there are treatment options available.

Therapy, addiction treatment, quality prenatal care, and more can all be accessed in a variety of addiction treatment programs.

To learn more about how to help a pregnant heroin addict and what the next steps should be, reach out to our helpline and talk to one of our trained specialists today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on December 29, 2021
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