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Morphine and Pregnancy

In animal studies on pregnancy and morphine, the medication increased the risk of various birth defects, such as cranial defects and skeletal problems. If you take the drug during the later stages of pregnancy, it may cause narcotic withdrawal in the infant after delivery, leading to symptoms such as fast breathing, vomiting, and fever. If you happen to be taking this drug and you become pregnant, make sure to talk to your healthcare provider.

Is Morphine Safe During Pregnancy?

Morphine is an active ingredient used in many prescription pain and cough medications. Based on reports of rare problems in humans, the drug may not be safe for use 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.
When given to pregnant animals in the second trimester, morphine caused problems. These problems included an increased risk for various defects, such as skeletal problems, exencephaly (a fatal condition where the brain is located outside the cranial cavity), kidney problems, and other problems. Interestingly, giving male rats large doses of morphine before mating resulted in a smaller litter size. Animal studies also show that morphine may also decrease the size of the brain, testes, and overall body weight of the offspring. Other problems seen in animal studies include slow growth, development, and sexual maturation, as well as decreased male fertility.
Although morphine has not been adequately studied in pregnant women, observational, survey-type studies do not indicate that morphine increases the risk of birth defects in humans.
Morphine is a narcotic, and using this 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.
Morphine is not recommended for pain control during labor or delivery. Not only can it slow down the progression of labor, but it may also cause breathing problems in the newborn.
However, pregnancy Category C medicines (including morphine) may be given to a pregnant woman if her healthcare provider believes that the benefits to the woman outweigh any possible risks to the unborn child.
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