Pregnant women on methadone have less miscarriages and larger healthier babies than babies born to mothers addicted to street opiates. Consequently, the expert advice is that if a woman is an opiate addict she should be started on methadone as soon as possible. Methadone does not cause birth defects. Longitudinal studies (investigations following a study group for a period of time) have found that children born to methadone mothers develop the same from infancy through grade 1(this is where the study ended).
So, the evidence suggests that you are more likely to carry your pregnancy to term and your baby is more likely to be healthier at birth and there is no evidence of long term effects from being exposed to methadone during pregnancy. Remember also that methadone has been used to treat addiction for more than 50 years so if there was a problem it would likely have been exposed by now.
Babies do develop Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome – NAS. This is a withdrawal syndrome and can be present in babies born to mothers who are dependent on any drugs including tobacco. NAS may take a week to develop so these babies are monitored for a week which is longer than babies not exposed to these medications. At BMC our experience is about 60% of babies born to mothers on methadone end up requiring morphine to help with the withdrawal syndrome. Many get discharged home with morphine for mom to administer. It is very important to understand that the chance of the baby developing NAS is NOT related to the dose of methadone the mother is on.
Breast feeding is encouraged for mothers on methadone unless you use cannabis (marijuana or pot or hashish). Breast feeding is dangerous for mothers that use cannabis because the amount of THC (an active ingredient in marijuana) concentrates 8 times in breast milk – therefore if you smoke 1 joint the baby gets 8. THC definitely affects the developing brain resulting in decreased intelligence.