Demerol and Pregnancy

Studies on pregnancy and Demerol (meperidine) have failed to show any association between the medication and birth defects. However, when Demerol is used to control pain during labor and delivery, it could cause problems in the newborn. This risk increases as the time between administration of the drug and actual delivery increases.

Is Demerol Safe During Pregnancy?

Demerol® (meperidine hydrochloride) is a narcotic, opioid medication. In addition to treating pain, it is also used for preoperative sedation or for use during anesthesia. Although Demerol is approved for use during labor and delivery in pregnant women, there are some risks for using this medication during pregnancy.
 

Pregnancy Category C

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses a category system to classify the possible risks to a fetus when a specific medicine is taken during pregnancy. Pregnancy Category C is given to medicines that have not been adequately studied in pregnant humans but do appear to cause harm to the fetus in animal studies. Also, medicines that have not been studied in any pregnant women or animals are automatically given a pregnancy Category C rating.
 
In general, survey-type studies (usually the only type of studies of medications that can be ethically performed in pregnant women) have failed to show any association between Demerol use and birth defects, even if the medication is used during the first trimester.
 
Demerol is approved for pain control during labor and delivery. The standard Demerol dosage for this use is 50 to 100 mg injected intramuscularly (into a muscle) or subcutaneously (just below the skin) once pain becomes regular. The dose may be repeated every one to three hours as necessary. However, using Demerol may cause problems such as drowsiness and potentially serious breathing problems in the newborn.
 
The potential for serious problems is lowest when Demerol is given very close to the actual birth. The risk increases as the time between administration of the drug and actual delivery increases.
 
Demerol is a narcotic, and chronic use of the drug during the end of a pregnancy may cause narcotic withdrawal in the infant after delivery. Such withdrawal symptoms may include:
 
  • Hyperactive reflexes
  • Fast breathing
  • Irritability and excessive crying
  • Shakiness (tremors)
  • Increased stools
  • Sneezing
  • Yawning
  • Vomiting
  • Fever.
     
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