This sheet talks about exposure to buprenorphine in pregnancy and while breastfeeding. This information should not take the place of medical care and advice from your healthcare provider.
What is buprenorphine?
Buprenorphine is an opioid medication used to treat addiction to opioid drugs such as heroin and other narcotic painkillers. It has also been used to treat pain. A brand name for buprenorphine is Subutex®. When combined with the medication naloxone, it is also known as Suboxone®, Zubsolv®, or Bunavil®.
I am taking buprenorphine, but I would like to stop taking it before becoming pregnant. How long does the medication stay in my body?
People get rid of medications from their bodies at different rates. In healthy, non-pregnant adults, it takes up to 9 days for most of the buprenorphine to be gone from the body.*
I just found out I am pregnant. Should I stop taking buprenorphine?
Talk with your healthcare providers before making any changes to this medication. Stopping an opioid medication suddenly could cause you to go into withdrawal. More research is needed to know how going through withdrawal might affect a pregnancy. Talk with your healthcare providers before making any changes to your medications. Changes to your buprenorphine treatment during pregnancy or while breastfeeding should be done only under the care of your healthcare provider.*
I take buprenorphine. Can it make it harder for me to get pregnant?
Studies have not been done to see if taking buprenorphine could make it harder for a woman to get pregnant.
Does taking buprenorphine during my pregnancy increase the chance of miscarriage?
Miscarriage can occur in any pregnancy. Limited studies looking at buprenorphine use in pregnant women have not found higher rates of miscarriage than what is seen in the general population. However, there are no published studies looking specifically at whether buprenorphine increases the chance of miscarriage. This does not mean there is an increased chance or that there is no increased chance. It only means that this question has not been answered.
Can taking buprenorphine increase the chance of having a baby with a birth defect?
In every pregnancy, a woman starts out with a 3-5% chance of having a baby with a birth defect. This is called her background risk. Limited studies looking at buprenorphine in pregnancy have not reported an increased chance for birth defects. Not every opioid medication has been studied on its own. Some studies that have looked at opioids as a group have suggested that opioids in general might be associated with birth defects including heart defects and cleft lip and palate. However, these studies have not found a specific pattern of birth defects caused by opioids. Based on available studies, if there is an increased chance for birth defects with opioid use in pregnancy, it is likely to be small.
Could buprenorphine cause other pregnancy problems?
Studies involving women who regularly use opioids during their pregnancy have found an increased chance for poor pregnancy outcomes such as poor growth of the baby, stillbirth, premature delivery, and C-section. This is more commonly reported in women who are taking heroin or who misuse their medications (take in higher doses or for longer than recommended by their healthcare provider). When taken as prescribed, buprenorphine does not seem to increase the chance for pregnancy problems. Use of an opioid close to the time of delivery can result in withdrawal symptoms in the baby (see the section of this fact sheet on Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.)*
Will my baby have withdrawal (Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome) if I continue to take buprenorphine throughout my pregnancy?
Studies have reported that some babies will experience neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) when buprenorphine is used up to the time of delivery. NAS is the term used to describe withdrawal symptoms in newborns from medication that a mother takes during pregnancy. For any opioid, symptoms can include difficulty breathing, extreme drowsiness (sleepiness), poor feeding, irritability, sweating, tremors, vomiting and diarrhea. NAS symptoms from buprenorphine may not appear for several days after birth and may last more than two weeks. If needed, babies can be treated for withdrawal while in the hospital. If you use an opioid in your pregnancy, it is important that your baby’s healthcare providers know and check for symptoms of NAS.*
Will taking buprenorphine during pregnancy affect my child’s behavior or cause learning problems?
There are not enough studies on buprenorphine to know if there is a chance for long-term problems. Some studies on opioids as a general group have found more problems with learning and behavior in children exposed to opioids for a long period of time during pregnancy. It is hard to tell if this is due to the medication exposure or other factors such as use of tobacco, alcohol, and/or other substances that can increase the chances of these problems.
What if I have been taking more buprenorphine than recommended by my healthcare provider?
Studies find that pregnant women who misuse opioids have an increased chance for pregnancy problems. These include poor growth of the baby, stillbirth, premature delivery, and the need for C-section. Some women who misuse opioids also have unhealthy lifestyles that can result in health problems for both the mother and the baby. For example, poor diet choices can lead to mothers not having enough nutrients to support a healthy pregnancy and could increase the chance of miscarriage and premature birth. Sharing needles to inject opioids increases the risk of getting diseases like hepatitis C and/or HIV which can also infect the baby.
Can I breastfeed my baby if I am taking buprenorphine?
The amount of buprenorphine in breast milk is expected to be too low to pose a problem for the nursing baby. While problems are not expected, a nursing infant should be watched for sleepiness and for proper weight gain. The baby’s healthcare provider should be contacted right away if you suspect the baby has symptoms related to buprenorphine. Abruptly stopping breastfeeding while taking buprenorphine is not recommended because it may result in withdrawal symptoms in the baby. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about all your breastfeeding questions.*
If a man takes buprenorphine, could it affect his fertility or increase the chance of birth defects?
There are no studies looking at possible risks to a pregnancy when the father takes buprenorphine. In general, exposures that fathers have are unlikely to increase risks to a pregnancy. For more information, please see the MotherToBaby fact sheet https://mothertobaby.org/fact-sheets/paternal-exposures-pregnancy/pdf/
* Section Updated May 2020
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OTIS/MotherToBaby recognizes that not all people identify as “men” or “women.” When using the term “mother,” we mean the source of the egg and/or uterus and by “father,” we mean the source of the sperm, regardless of the person’s gender identity.