Taking Morphine While Pregnant

A healthcare professional can help you determine the benefits versus the risks of using morphine and other opioids during pregnancy.

Despite the risks associated with opioid use during pregnancy, the use of opioids, including morphine sulfate, is prevalent in pregnant women. According to a 2019 survey, about 1 in 5 pregnant women who take prescription opioids also struggle with drug abuse.

Morphine use increases the risk of birth defects, including abnormalities in the brain, spine, intestines, and heart. In addition, opioids pose a risk of dependence in both the mother and infant. Dependence can cause severe withdrawal symptoms in infants that can last several weeks.

Is Morphine Safe During Pregnancy?

Acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), and other over-the-counter pain relievers are associated with birth defects and other health problems. Prescription opioid analgesics (pain medications), which are used to treat severe pain, carry similar risks to the fetus and mother.

However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that untreated pain during pregnancy can lead to depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure.

A healthcare professional can help you determine the benefits versus the risks of using morphine and other opioids during pregnancy.

The risks of morphine use in pregnant women includes:

  • congenital heart defects
  • brain and spine defects
  • premature birth
  • still birth
  • long-term health problems

Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (NOWS)

When a pregnant woman takes opioids, the drugs pass through the placenta and enter the baby’s bloodstream. Both the mother and the baby receive the drug and can become dependent. Dependence can result in neonatal withdrawal, also known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

The severity of withdrawal depends on the type of opioid used, the dose, and how long it was used. Morphine is a short-acting opiate, which means withdrawal symptoms appear sooner than long-acting opioids (like methadone).

Symptoms of opioid withdrawal in newborns may include:

  • blotchy skin
  • diarrhea
  • high-pitched crying
  • sucking behavior
  • fever
  • overactive reflexes
  • irritability
  • rapid breathing
  • difficulty sleeping
  • tremors
  • seizures
  • vomiting
  • poor feeding

Symptoms may start soon after being born and continue for several days or weeks. Depending on the severity of withdrawal symptoms, treatment may involve medications and hospitalization.

Effects Of Morphine During Pregnancy

Morphine, which is also sold under the brand name MS Contin, is an agonist drug that activates opioid receptors in the central nervous system. Once in the brain, the drug releases dopamine and produces pain relief.

Additional opioid agonist medications include:

  • oxycodone
  • hydrocodone
  • codeine
  • fentanyl

Opioids may also cause unwanted side effects, which vary depending on the dose of morphine and how it is used.

Side-effects of morphine and other prescription opioids include:

  • drowsiness
  • nausea
  • dry mouth
  • anxiety
  • pinpoint pupils
  • difficulty urinating
  • headache
  • constipation

Adverse effects can also occur if you misuse a prescription by taking it in a way other than how it is prescribed. Taking higher doses than recommended by the prescribing doctor can lead to dependence and opioid addiction.

Breastfeeding Risks

Medications can also transfer to breast milk, which can be a risk to infants if you take high doses of morphine. Although the risk is low, morphine can cause a life-threatening overdose, known as respiratory depression, in infants.

Respiratory depression occurs because opioid medications slow down essential brain functions, like breathing and heart rate. Signs may include shallow breathing, slow heart rate, low blood pressure, or loss of consciousness.

If you notice signs of an opioid overdose, call for emergency help immediately and administer naloxone if available. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that blocks the effects of opioids and can reverse an opioid overdose.

What If You Become Pregnant While Taking Morphine?

If you have a morphine addiction and become pregnant, speak with your healthcare provider about your options. Depending on the risks, your doctor may help you switch to a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program during pregnancy.

A MAT program combines the use of FDA-approved medication and therapy to reduce the risk of drug abuse. This may be safer than continuing to take morphine, even though MAT medications are likely to cause opioid withdrawal symptoms in the newborn.


Methadone is a MAT medication and opioid agonist. Although it activates the same receptors as morphine, it is longer-acting and has a lower risk of abuse. Methadone also helps reduce cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and the risk of relapse.

Morphine Addiction Treatment

If you think you may be struggling with morphine addiction, a professional treatment center can connect you with the level of care that fits your needs.

If you need outpatient services, Northeast Addictions Treatment Center provides you with comprehensive and personalized treatment to help you maintain long-term recovery.

If you or a loved one would like to learn more about our opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment programs, please reach out to a specialist today.

Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

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This page does not provide medical advice.

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