Safely Detoxing from Drugs While Pregnant

Written by Michelle Rosenker

Addiction can develop at any time in a person’s life, especially if a person has or is experiencing one or more of the most common risk factors of addiction, including:

  • Family history of addiction
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Sexual/emotional/verbal abuse
  • Sexual assault/rape
  • Traumatic events (e.g. major car accidents, unexpected death of a loved one, a natural disaster, combat exposure, abandonment)
  • Poverty
  • Physical abuse
  • High-stress levels

If you are one of the millions of Americans who have experienced any of these risk factors, your life probably has not stopped in its tracks. The world continues to move around you, forcing you to move with it. For women in particular, part of moving along includes reaching child-bearing age. And, unfortunately, pregnant women are not exempt from addiction. 

As of 2013, more than 120,000 women in the United States were addicted to drugs while pregnant. There isn’t more current reliable data on how many pregnant women are experiencing addiction at this time, but the number of babies being born in drug withdrawal is a good indicator that this rate has increased substantially. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one baby is born suffering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) every 19 minutes in the United States today. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is a set of symptoms that newborns experience when born addicted to drugs or alcohol. 

No mother, regardless of if she is addicted to drugs or not, wants their unborn child to be harmed while in utero. No mother wants their baby to be anything but healthy when they are born. But when expectant mothers are addicted to drugs, these hopes and desires for their unborn children take a backseat to the urge to keep using. 

A common misconception about pregnant women addicted to drugs is that they do not care about their baby at all. This could not be farther from the truth. The disease of addiction changes the way the brain functions, making it extremely difficult (if not impossible for some) to simply stop using drugs, no matter how much a person might want to. Attempting to try to end drug use independently is usually ineffective, which is why reaching out to professionals to begin the process of stopping active addiction is imperative. For many pregnant women in this situation, the first step they need to take is to detox.

drug addict pregnant woman

Can You Detox While Pregnant?

If you are addicted to drugs and are pregnant at the same time, you might think that there is little to nothing that anyone can do to help improve your situation. You might be fearful that if you reach out for help, you will face criminal charges and potentially have your child taken from you when he or she is born. Apprehension when contemplating the detox process is normal, however, the more time that passes where you continue to use, the more damage both you and your child will endure. 

Thankfully, detoxing while pregnant is not only possible but highly recommended. That is because the less exposure you and your child have to drugs, the better the outcome will be for both of you. 

Safe Detox During Pregnancy

Your entire goal during detox while pregnant is to flush out any and all addictive substances in your system. Depending on the type of drug you were abusing, how much you were taking at a time, and for how long, this is a process that may take a few days to a week (possibly more). Even if you weren’t with child, detoxing is something that is recommended to be done under the care of professionals. If you are pregnant, that recommendation is much stronger, as both your life and the life of your unborn child needs to be monitored to ensure your wellbeing and overall safety. 

The good news is that you can safely detox, even when pregnant. 

By far the greatest benefit of detoxing is being closely supervised by medical professionals such as doctors and nurses. This is because as you detox, you will undoubtedly experience symptoms that have the potential to compromise you and your baby’s health. Certain drugs produce certain withdrawal symptoms, however, there is a slew of common withdrawal symptoms that most everyone is detox can experience, including the following:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle aches
  • Abdominal cramping 
  • Sweats and chills
  • Tremors 
  • Overall feeling of being unwell 

These symptoms might not seem problematic at first glance, but they can quickly lead to more serious issues. For example, consistent vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea can lead to dehydration, while muscle aches and abdominal cramping can increase the urge to use again just to obtain some relief. Also, cramping of any kind, especially in the abdomen, may be related to detoxing or a complication with your pregnancy. These are just a few reasons why it is important to allow medical professionals to provide you with care while you detox. Not only can they monitor your symptoms, but they can also monitor the symptoms of the baby to ensure both of you are doing as well as possible. Rather than becoming dehydrated and requiring an emergency IV, nurses can preemptively provide you with fluids or do so if you are heading towards dehydration. They can also provide you with medications to help ease gastrointestinal problems, muscle aches, etc., allowing these symptoms to be managed easier. 

With medications in mind, there is also the possibility that you will be prescribed medication to help mitigate a painful detox and help improve your recovery outcomes. If you are addicted to benzodiazepines (Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin), a medical detox can provide you with a benzodiazepine taper to help minimize the impact of your withdrawal symptoms on you and your baby. Doing this can also help to prevent further, more serious symptoms such as seizures. If you are addicted to opioids, you may be prescribed methadone or buprenorphine, two FDA-approved medications used to help treat opioid withdrawal in all types of people, including pregnant women. 

It is important to understand that the implementation of prescription medications into your detox does not provide a 100% safeguard against any further effects that your child may endure. But studies show that using methadone or buprenorphine when detoxing while pregnant dramatically decreases the risk to the unborn child and even lessens the severity of the baby’s NAS symptoms.  These medications do not stop these symptoms from developing in your baby nor will they reverse any issues that have already developed while in utero. 

It might not sound ideal to begin taking any medication that can still continue to affect your baby, however without medication, it can be extremely challenging to stop using. Full-blown drug use has proven to do significantly more damage to a fetus than methadone, buprenorphine, or any other form of medication used to help manage withdrawal symptoms could possibly do. If it is determined that including a prescription medication into your detox plan is the best choice for your situation, then you will begin that medication while in detox. It will be administered to you and managed by a nurse or other medical professional and can be adjusted in dosage based on your needs. This the safest way to take one of these medications, as it can be habit-forming if abused. 

Outside of the physical effects of detoxing, you may experience psychological effects that would otherwise compromise your health if not attending a medical detox program. It is common for people detoxing from drugs to experience:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Irritability
  • Agitation

Each one of these psychological effects can become quickly overwhelming, especially if you are already not feeling your best from detoxing while pregnant. When you are in a medical detox, there are mental health professionals who can help you sort out these issues so that you can remain focused on your goal of fully detoxing. Also, some issues such as irritability and agitation may be mitigated with something simple such as being provided a comfortable place to rest or given an over-the-counter medication to help treat a persistent headache. If you experience these symptoms at home, you may be more inclined to quit detoxing and begin using again in an effort to make the distress stop. Doing that is incredibly dangerous and continues to expose your child to drugs that can permanently harm or even kill him or her. 

If you are worried that detoxing will put you and your unborn child at risk, reach out to a professional detox center. The professionals there can help get you through this difficult stage of your recovery all while ensuring that you and your baby are in the best care possible at this time. 

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How to Detox Drugs Out of Your System When Pregnant

Clearing drugs out of your system is not something that you or anyone else can achieve overnight. You can’t “flush” it from your system by drinking tons of water, nor can you take medication that removes addictive substances from your body. If you want to detox drugs out of your system, the most important things you will need are time and patience. 

When you enter into a medical detox program, you will no longer be able to use. You may show up to detox high or you may have already stopped using by the time you arrive, however, once you cross that threshold, any and all use must be ceased. Because of that, withdrawal symptoms will develop shortly if they haven’t already.  Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to stop withdrawal symptoms from occurring, however, as mentioned before, you can minimize the severity of your symptoms while in detox. 

The best ways to detox drugs out of your system is to maintain your health as much as possible by drinking plenty of fluids and eating well. Take recommended medications (both over-the-counter and prescription) to help ease your symptoms and decrease the potential for further complications. Remind yourself to be patient and to reach out if you feel like you need more support. In regards to your baby, the doctors and nurses providing you with care will be able to ensure that all medications and treatment approach given to you will not harm your baby. For example, some over-the-counter medications can disturb the healthy development of your unborn child or create an interaction that can threaten their wellbeing. Remember that even though you may have been able to use a certain medication or participate in a specific therapeutic approach before you were pregnant, you may not be able to do the same now that you are with child. Many rules change once you become pregnant, and the rules surrounding a health detox change, too.  

Getting Clean While Pregnant

Getting clean while pregnant is vital for you and your unborn child’s health. Your continued drug abuse can cause several effects on your own health, including but not limited to, the following:

  • Vital organ damage
  • Respiratory distress
  • Development or exacerbation of symptoms associated with mental illness (e.g. depression, anxiety)
  • Increased risk for contracting bloodborne diseases like HIV or hepatitis
  • Brain damage
  • Overdose
  • Seizure
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Unhealthy weight (underweight/overweight)
  • Poor immune system leading to regular infections and viruses

As you continue to use, not only can you suffer these effects, but your baby can also experience the following:

  • Low birth weight
  • Small head circumference
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)
  • Cognitive deficiencies
  • Congenital defects
  • Death 

If you focus on getting clean while pregnant, you can limit the number of effects that you and your baby experience. You can begin building a strong foundation for you and your baby that includes a solid support system, connection to others in recovery, vital coping skills, and a clear path towards recovery. Also, if you get clean while pregnant, you can eliminate the risk of having your baby taken by social services after he or she is born and avoid future legal battles to regain custody. Most importantly of all, getting clean while pregnant gives your unborn child the opportunity to have his or her mother present and available. Not only is that a gift you can give your child, but one that you can give yourself, as you will be actively participating in your child’s upbringing, which provides much joy, happiness, and a powerful sense of reward. 

Are You Pregnant and Need to Detox?

If you are pregnant and want to stop using, reach out for professional help today. Attempts to detox on your own can be futile and only cause you to continue using. With the help of trained professionals, you can get through detox safely and quickly and begin building a life of recovery for yourself and your baby. 

Do not let another day go by. Every single day counts. Call us right now to learn more about how we can help you and your baby today. 

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