Does Taking Hydrocodone During Pregnancy Cause Birth Defects?

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If you are pregnant and suffering from chronic pain, then your doctor might prescribe opioid analgesics. One drug belonging to this category is Hydrocodone, sold under the brand name Zohydro. Hydrocodone is used to treat severe pain that cannot be treated with any other alternative treatment, and that which requires daily, long-term opioid treatment (1).

However, extreme caution must be exercised while using opioids during pregnancy. In this post, MomJunction tells you about using hydrocodone during pregnancy, when a doctor might prescribe it, the side-effects, and precautions to take while using it.

Is It Safe To Take Hydrocodone During Pregnancy?

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), hydrocodone belongs to Pregnancy Category C (D, when used long-term). It means animal studies showed adverse effects on the fetus, but there are no well-controlled studies in pregnant women to determine its safety during pregnancy (2). So, your doctor would only prescribe hydrocodone when other alternatives fail to work and when the potential benefits outweigh the risks.

The US FDA warns against prolonged usage of hydrocodone during pregnancy as it can lead to neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, also known as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) shortly after birth, which can be characterized by the following symptoms (1).

  • Poor feeding
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Tremors
  • Rigidity
  • Seizures

Also, hydrocodone should not be used before labor, as it can prolong the labor by reducing the strength, duration, and frequency of uterine contractions.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that if you need to take hydrocodone while pregnant, then discuss with your doctor about the available treatments to treat neonatal withdrawal syndrome in the newborn baby. It is also necessary to monitor your health and your baby’s health throughout the pregnancy and after delivery (3).

Does Taking Hydrocodone During Pregnancy Increase The Chance Of A Miscarriage?

There are no human studies to determine if the use of hydrocodone can cause miscarriage. According to the ACOG, misuse (overdose) of opioids during pregnancy can cause serious complications such as placental abruption, fetal growth problems, preterm birth, and stillbirth (4).

Does Taking Hydrocodone Increase The Chance Of Birth Defects In The Baby?

A cohort study found that the use of opioids in early pregnancy can cause spina bifida (gap in the backbone) and some types of congenital heart defects, which can contribute to infant morbidity and mortality.

This study also found that in infants born to the sample set of women who took opioid analgesics before pregnancy, the risk of hypoplastic left heart syndrome had increased by 2.4 times (5).

Can Hydrocodone Cause Other Pregnancy Complications?

Along with the possible fetal defects, opioids have certain side effects that can lead to complications during pregnancy. Some of the side effects of hydrocodone are (6):

  • Sedation
  • Respiratory depression
  • Mental clouding
  • Euphoria
  • Agitation
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache and dizziness

The complications could be serious in the case of an overdose, which must be avoided.

What Happens If You Overdose On Hydrocodone When Pregnant?

Hydrocodone must be taken only in the prescribed dosage for the recommended duration. Abusing opioids can lead to several serious complications. If you overdose on opioids, you might pass out, or your breathing might slow down or stop.

You may develop an opioid addiction, which can make it difficult for you to take care of yourself and your baby. Also, overuse of opioids during pregnancy may cause fetal growth problems, preterm birth, and stillbirth (3).

How Long Does Hydrocodone Stay In Your System?

Hydrocodone and its metabolites are primarily eliminated through the kidneys. The time taken for the drug to leave the body depends on various factors such as the functioning of the kidneys, age, etc. So, always consult your doctor before making any changes to your dosage.

Also, if you are taking hydrocodone and find out that you are pregnant, then do not stop taking this drug abruptly as it can cause withdrawal effects on your body. Consult your doctor to know how to stop taking hydrocodone without triggering complications (1).

Your doctor might only prescribe this drug when alternative medications do not work. If you are pregnant and need to take hydrocodone, use it with extreme caution and follow your doctor’s advice throughout the treatment. In the US, recent change of laws make it very difficult for your doctor to prescribe this drug and you might have to see a Pain specialist as well as Obstetricians that specialize in opioid related pregnancy management.

Did you take hydrocodone during pregnancy? Share your experience with us in the comment section below.

This post is for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for a doctor’s consultation. Do not use any medication without talking to your doctor.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Prescribing Information- Zohydro; The US Food and Drug Administration
2. Dana G. Carroll; Drugs In Pregnancy; The University of Alabama
3. Opioid Use Disorder and Pregnancy; The American College of Obstetricians and
4. Tobacco, Alcohol, Drugs, and Pregnancy; The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
5. Cheryl S. Broussard, et al.; Maternal treatment with opioid analgesics and risk for birth defects; American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology
6. Drug Record- Hydrocodone; National Institutes of Health

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