More Moms are Getting Addicted to Opioids After Giving Birth

According to preliminary findings by researchers from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, mothers who are prescribed opioids for pain relief after giving birth, either vaginally or via C-section, may be at higher risk for getting addicted to the medication.

The findings revealed that in looking at over 102,000 women in Nashville who gave birth, 89% who had a C-section and 53% who had a vaginal delivery were prescribed and filled a prescription for opioid pain medicine. None of the women had used opioids within 180 days of delivery, but the researchers found that women who were filling a prescription for opioids for the first time ever had higher rates of persistent use of the medicine a year after delivery. The rates overall for persistent opioid use were low, at less than 1 percent, but the risk for initial prescriptions and filling multiple prescriptions raised the risk for both moms who had C-sections and vaginal deliveries.

Scary, right?

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Obviously, no one wants to have a baby and wind up addicted to opioid medication and while the study is not saying that’s what will happen to you, it is an important topic that does need to be talked about, as some women may not even be aware of their own risk for dependency, or know the signs that they may be experiencing an addiction.

opioids
Image via Unsplash/ Kelly Sikkema

Pain during and after childbirth is an important topic that needs to be both addressed and managed for mothers. As a whole in our country, we tend to largely ignore the mental, emotional, and physical needs of women during and after pregnancy; instead, we focus solely on the baby. This study may be an important step towards both doctors and families realizing that it’s not enough to simply send Mom home with a painkiller prescription and a booklet of care; comprehensive postpartum care needs to fully encompass a mom’s emotional, physical, and mental needs. Without all three and with doctors overprescribing opioids in general in the country, moms may be left being unnecessarily at risk.

“If our estimates were projected to the number of women who give birth annually in the United States, we calculated that every year there would be around 21,000 women becoming chronic opioid users that would be attributable to opioid use in the postpartum period,” Dr. Carlos Grijalva, the study’s lead author, said in a university news release.

There are many potential reasons that the risk of getting addicted to opioids may be especially high in women after giving birth. For instance, many mothers suffer from postpartum depression, which could lead them to seek relief in opioids, or even suffer increased physical symptoms as a result of their depression. The isolation, loneliness, and general upheaval of life after a baby could place a mother already at-risk at an even more vulnerable position for dependency.

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Now that we know that opioid dependency and addiction could be a real risk for postpartum women, it is important as women and mothers to know our own risks and be proactive in our healthcare decisions. If you have struggled with addiction in the past, be open with your doctor about possibly avoiding opioids and exploring other pain relief strategies for the postpartum period. In some cases, emotional interventions, such as therapy, or physical assistance, such as hiring a postpartum doula, may help alleviate pain symptoms that can be exacerbated as well.

And if you experience any signs of an opioid addiction during the postpartum period, such as:

  • Dependency on medication (meaning you feel like you have to take the medication to get through your day)
  • Increased need for medication and/or feeling like you need higher doses to be effective
  • Engaging in risky or dangerous behavior to get or take the medicine
  • Putting you or your baby at risk with impaired abilities while taking the medication
  • Visiting more doctors to get more medication
  • Lying about symptoms to get more medication

You should call your doctor immediately or visit an addiction hotline to get help. And if you’re a mother going into have a baby, please know that the overall rate of opioid addiction is very low for mothers who are prescribed common opioid medications after childbirth, but it is a real risk, so talk to your doctor about all options if you’d prefer to avoid opioids during your recovery.

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More Moms are Getting Addicted to Opioids After Giving Birth

Chaunie Brusie is a writer, mom of four, and founder of The Stay Strong Mom, a community + gift box service for moms after loss. ... More

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