Many people who abuse drugs have no interest in addiction treatment until they have to consider their children. For women, becoming pregnant may be the first time they decide to learn all the facts about drug addiction. For both men and women, it might come down to the effects of addiction on all members of the family, including young ones, as the last little push they need to seek help. Some parents know they will lose custody of their children if they keep using. But remember that you have to be the one to reach out; if you wait until you are forced by the courts to address your addiction, you can lose your rights as a parent.
When You’re Expecting a Child
No matter how long you’ve been using pain pills, heroin, or other opiates, you should call a methadone treatment program as soon as you find out you’re expecting. You can read about all the reasons to seek treatment right on this website, but don’t delay getting help. The longer you wait, the greater the harm you can cause to your unborn child. Ignorance of the facts about drug addiction is no excuse.
Many pregnant women do the right thing and get into treatment. They see their doctor regularly and attend group counseling, and many programs even offer special sessions for women taking Suboxone or Subutex. But there are still questions that don’t have cut-and-dried answers when you explore the facts about drug addiction. For example:
Will my baby be born addicted? Yes, your baby will require special medical care, most likely in the neonatal intensive care unit immediately after its birth. Now ask yourself this: Would you rather ignore addiction and pretend that nothing will go wrong with your pregnancy and then surprise the people in the delivery room with a baby that’s unprepared to face life? Or do you prefer to get your addiction under control ahead of time? You can then work with a team of substance abuse treatment specialists who understand all the facts about drug addiction, and then go into the delivery room surrounded by professionals fully prepared to render care to your new baby.
Will I get my medication in the hospital? Once you are admitted for the delivery, the hospital will provide your medication. Once you’re discharged, even if your baby stays a few extra days, you will report to the clinic for your regular doses. If you have take-home doses that you didn’t use because you went to the hospital, you’ll have to discuss what to do with those with your counselor at the treatment program.
Will my baby be taken away from me? Some women hope to get through the pregnancy without anyone noticing their addiction. They simply pray for the best, without planning for it, because they fear if they come forward they will have to deal with workers from the children’s services board who will investigate them and possibly remove the child from their home.
These facts about drug addiction include a little legal advice: If this is your first baby, you have some time to clean up your act, because children’s services cannot open up a case against you until your baby is born. If you already have other children, they can investigate you while you’re pregnant and be prepared to move against you, your newborn, and your other children as soon as possible.
But you can prevent their interference if you line up your ducks in a row and prepare for an investigation during your pregnancy. First, be certain that you are following all the rules of the methadone or Suboxone treatment program. Keep all your appointments, and make certain you can render clean drug screens. Do not allow other people who live in your household to keep using drugs, because the children’s services investigator will want to know that the children live in a drug-free environment. It comes down to a choice between your children and your drugs.
What if I know I can’t raise my baby? You can legally give your baby up in any state through “Safe Haven” laws. The laws vary from state to state but the idea is to protect you from criminal prosecution if you really feel you cannot give your child a good life. If you just abandon your child in a hospital or a church, authorities will continue to look for you and you will be subject to prosecution.
In Texas, you can make this decision while the baby is still younger than 60 days. In Georgia, you only have seven days to leave your child, and you can do so only at medical facilities. In California, you can access this process only for the first three days of your child’s life. The National Safe Haven Alliance offers information on this alternative. But you will also have time to hold your baby and decide if there is some way that you can make a go of it.
What side effects will I experience from taking Suboxone, Subutex, or methadone during pregnancy? Knowing the facts about drug addiction cannot do much to determine which of your physical symptoms are caused by your medication and which are caused by the pregnancy. While some women ask their counselors because they feel comfortable opening up to them, only a doctor is qualified to answer that question. Begin your conversation with your methadone or buprenorphine doctor the next time you see them. If they can’t answer your question, they’ll help you get an answer from your OB-GYN.
Can I breastfeed my new baby? It’s safe to breastfeed if you’re taking methadone or buprenorphine. Only a small amount of the medication passes into your breastmilk. Your doctor—or your baby’s doctor, the pediatrician—will tell you to watch your infant for excessive drowsiness, weight loss, or other symptoms.
Many women who begin methadone treatment switch to Suboxone or Subutex when they become pregnant. These brand-name formulations of buprenorphine have proved to be much safer for unborn babies. In fact, most doctors will ask you to try Subutex over Suboxone because it does not contain naloxone, which helps reduce urges to use.
At the end of the day, nobody can answer these questions for you better than one of the doctors at your local methadone or Suboxone clinic. Many clinics offer coordinated pregnancy treatment programs. Don’t be afraid to call, because if you’re pregnant you’ll be given first priority. Don’t be afraid to open up with your questions, because the doctors have heard so many stories that very few questions surprise them. Remember that knowing the facts about drug addiction can’t save you—only real action on your part to get into addiction treatment can make a real difference in your life, and in the lives of your children.