Drug Detox Detox While Pregnant: Is It Safe?

Last Updated: October 25, 2019

Drug addiction in pregnant women can be harmful to them as well as their babies. Many substances of abuse cause the development process of the baby to malfunction. As such, these women need to try drug detoxing while pregnant to keep their babies safe from the adverse effects of substance abuse. However, this process has its own set of dangerous unwanted effects for both mother and baby. Quitting cold turkey while pregnant should always be avoided.

Many women don’t know how to detox drugs out of the system when pregnant properly. Others assume that it is unsafe and continue to expose their babies to drugs. Can one detox while pregnant? Is it safe to do it at home? What should a woman expect?

Dangers of Substance Withdrawal During Pregnancy

Drug detoxing while pregnant is challenging for both mothers and doctors. When an addicted woman goes into withdrawal, the body is severely out of balance, which can be harmful to the fetus.

Factors affecting the severity of withdrawal

Different substances of abuse have various withdrawal symptoms and complications that may arise. Factors like:

  • the type of drug used
  • the method it was used (smoking, snorting, ingesting or injecting)
  • duration of abuse
  • amount of drug abused each time
  • biological, genetic, and environmental factors

can all influence how addicted the woman may be. These factors also impact the duration and severity of the withdrawal process.

Opiate detox while pregnant can be especially troublesome. It can cause respiratory depression in unborn babies, leading to miscarriage, premature labor, or fetal disorders in severe cases. What helps when detoxing from opiates is careful weaning by using an alternate, weaker prescription opioids. The process of detoxing from drugs while pregnant should be undertaken in a medical facility.

pregnant woman sitting near the window

Effects on fetus

The substance of abuse also gets absorbed in the fetal body and causes addiction. Once the expecting mother stops drug usage, how long do drugs stay in a fetus system? It depends on the type of drug as some take a longer time to clear from the body than others. Eventually, the fetus may get so addicted to the substance of abuse that upon birth, the baby may undergo neonatal abstinence syndrome, a group of dangerous complications a newborn baby develops when it withdraws from certain drugs exposed to in the womb before birth.

Self-Detox for A Pregnant Woman – Is It Dangerous?

With such a wide range of adverse effects, natural detox while pregnant can be a dangerous and life-threatening strategy. Upon discovering that they are expecting, women may find it tempting and in the best interest of their baby to stop all drug use immediately and suddenly. Some search the internet for pregnancy-safe detox drinks. Others try holistic cleanses. While some drug detox liquids available in the market claim work well to cleanse the body immediately, they do not offer a solution for the overbearing craving for the drug. Their efficacy has no solid proof as well.

Home drug detox is not safe, especially as the pregnancy compounds the adverse effects of the process. Under the uncontrolled home environment, the mother or her family would not know how to deal with the many complications that occur during drug withdrawal. This can be fatal for both mother and child. However, some women reject entering inpatient detox during pregnancy, although it is the safest way. In such situations, it is highly recommended at least to perform detox in an outpatient setting under proper medical supervision instead of cleaning out the system while pregnant at home.

Medical Detox During Pregnancy – How Is It Different?

A medical program can provide detox safe for pregnancy. It helps the mothers withdraw from the substance of abuse carefully while managing any potential withdrawal symptoms in a controlled supervised environment. With any kind of dependency, a medical program can provide a safe and gradual detox process ideal for the mother. Medical detox can be provided through an outpatient or inpatient program, depending on what is needed or deemed necessary for the patient.

pregnant woman in a hospital bed

What to Expect During Detox for Pregnant Women?


A doctor will guide the expecting mother on how to detox the body while pregnant. Usually, this is done by tapering the drug of addiction instead of stopping it completely and suddenly. Often, it is substituted by an equivalent prescription drug. The prescription drug dosage is tapered off over time. A doctor constructs a tapering schedule based on the level of addiction and may also prescribe safe medicines to deal with some troubling withdrawal symptoms. A rapid procedure is not safe or recommended for expecting mothers because it requires sedation, and a sedated detox tends to have a higher risk of complications.

Mental health support

Inpatient programs can help women with their mental health and ensure their safety and security while keeping them away from self-harm. Additional antidepressant therapy may be necessary in some women, in which case medical providers choose antidepressants with the safest side-effect profile.

Continuos recovery

The journey, however, does not end with drug detox while pregnant. After completion of the program, it is essential to continue getting treatment for the underlying factors that led to substance abuse and dependence by following addiction treatment plans and learning skills to avoid relapse. An addiction treatment program may be available at the same facility as the medical detox program. If not, the mother should transfer to a facility that provides this service.

Barriers for Pregnant Women Seeking Help

Many women continue drug abuse or stop cold turkey when they find they are expecting instead of approaching a doctor. Many factors barricade these women from seeking appropriate prenatal care.

pregnant woman crying

  • Most commonly, addicted women have a poor socio-economic background and do not have health insurance to cover prenatal care.
  • Those who can afford prenatal care often fear that the discovery of their use of drugs may lead to jail-time. They fear that they will be separated from their children or judged by their community.
  • The social stigma against women who are addicted and expecting is strong. It pressurizes the mother to keep her struggles secret and avoid pursuing proper health care for her addiction.

It is also prudent that prenatal care is made universal. Mostly, the subject of drug abuse in pregnant women needs to be discussed and sympathized in the communities. Only then can women feel safe enough to decide the best course for themselves and their babies.

How to Choose a Detox Center for Pregnant Women

Once decided to pursue detox, many women find it difficult to choose an appropriate center. Although many rehab facilities provide comprehensive programs, only a quarter of these offer services for pregnant women. This is because safe detox while pregnant is more complex and stringent than the regular process for men and women. A properly trained medical team needs to be incorporated to make pregnancy safe detox programs.

An expecting mother who wants to stop using drugs of abuse should call top-rated drug rehabs in her vicinity and inquire whether they offer detox programs for pregnancy. These programs should then be visited and compared to ensure that the mother feels safe and secure at the facility. The programs are generally designed to be private, confidential, and free from judgment. The medical teams at the centers are sympathetic to the struggles with addiction and understand the need for a mother to get clean. Some centers even offer free medical detox.

Finding other women going through similar programs can provide continued motivation to complete the program. Support groups for women undergoing the same process will help them understand the potential complications and struggles through the detox process and new motherhood.

Page Sources

  1. Rebecca Stone. Pregnant women and substance use: fear, stigma, and barriers to care. Health Justice. 2015 Dec; 3: 2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5151516/
  2. Shainker SA, Saia K, Lee-Parritz A. Opioid addiction in pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol Surv. 2012 Dec;67(12):817-25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23233054
  3. Chaya G. Bhuvaneswar, Grace Chang, Lucy A. Epstein, Theodore A. Stern. Cocaine and Opioid Use During Pregnancy: Prevalence and Management. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2249829/

Published on: October 25th, 2019

Updated on: October 25th, 2019


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