Can You Use Morphine While Pregnant?

Morphine is an opioid (narcotic) medication used to relieve moderate or severe pain. This analgesic works by acting on the brain’s pain centers to change the way the body feels or reacts to pain. Pain is often seen in pregnancy, such as in the back, legs, etc. But, how safe is morphine while pregnant?

Is It Safe to Use Morphine During Pregnancy?

Due to reports of some rare adverse effects in human users, morphine is considered unsafe for use during pregnancy. The FDA, United States Food and Drug Administration categorizes it under Pregnancy Category C substances. Medications, whose effects have not been adequately studied in humans but have been found to pose possible harm to animal fetuses, are placed in Pregnancy Category C.

During studies on pregnant animals in the second trimester, morphine was found to cause problems which included elevated risk of the following:

  • Skeletal defects
  • Exencephaly (brain located outside the cranial cavity)
  • Kidney defects

Several other animal studies indicate that morphine decreases the size of body organs, including the brain, testicles and the body of the offspring. It might also cause a decrease in male fertility, delayed sexual maturity, and slow growth.

Being a narcotic, morphine while pregnant, especially towards the end of the pregnancy is likely to cause withdrawal symptoms in the newborn. These may include the following:

  • Fever
  • Sneezing
  • Tremors (shakiness)
  • Hyperactive reflexes
  • Panting (fast breathing)
  • Yawning
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive stools
  • Excessive crying and irritability

The following factors affect the severity of neonatal withdrawal symptoms:

  • Duration of morphine use by the mother
  • Dosage and timing of mother’s last dose before delivery
  • The newborn body’s speed of morphine elimination

Morphine is also not recommended to relieve pain during labor or delivery. It may slow the progression of labor. It could also lead to breathing complications in the newborn babies.

Safety of Different Pain Medicines in Pregnancy

Persistent, severe pain can lead to anxiety, depression and hypertension in a pregnant woman. Opioids, acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are effective medications for treating severe, persistent pain. But, it is important to carefully weigh the benefits and risks before using the medicines.

FDA reviewed possible risks of using the three types of pain medications below:

  • Opioids (narcotics) such as codeine, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone: These are available by prescription only. There are reports suggesting that use by pregnant women in the first trimester can cause brain and spinal defects in the unborn babies. Morphine while pregnant belongs to the category of medication.
  • Acetaminophen found in prescription and OTC medicines: It may increase risk of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in babies if their mothers take such medication at any point during pregnancy. Acetaminophen is a common ingredient in many pain and fever medications.
  • Prescription NSAIDs, including naproxen, diclofenac, celecoxib and ibuprofen: They are reported to increase the risk of miscarriage in the first half of pregnancy.

How to Safely Relieve Pain in Pregnancy

1.     Elevate Feet

Putting your feet up on the couch as you lie back can help blood flow in your legs. This reduces the risk of swelling or formation of clots.

2.     Go on a Hike

As the debate on use of morphine while pregnant rages, hiking could do the trick for you. Regular hikes and similar exercises improve blood flow, which provides energy and oxygen throughout your body. This makes you feel good and reduces pain.

3.     Go for a Swim

Swimming is one of the most effective exercises for many muscles of your body. The weightlessness takes the pressure off of your legs and even the internal organs, relieving your pain.

4.     Heat Away the Pain

You can heat away the sore pain in your back using a heat pad on the affected area. If you don’t have a heating pad, make your own using some rice in a sock. Tie the two ends and heat the rice in sock in the microwave for two minutes. Click here to learn more.

5.     Get a Massage

You don’t have to go to a professional masseuse while your partner can do it just fine. Let him give you a gentle kneading massage in the lower back or the sides of your spine. Massage will relax your muscles and cause your brain to release pain-reducing endorphin.

6.     Support Your Body Parts

You will get better quality sleep if your body has proper support in the right places. Place a pillow between your legs and/or under your back. Better sleep allows your body to relax and cope with the pain in a better way.

7.     Try Alternative Options

Meditation, yoga, reflexology, acupressure and acupuncture are alternative pain relief options that are worth exploring. 

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