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First the bad news:

  • Using oxycodone (one of the components of Percocet) or other similar drugs in pregnancy doubles the risk of a birth defect known as spina bifida.
  • Using these drugs during pregnancy doubles the risk of a condition called gastroschisis, in which the baby is born with intestines sticking outside the body.
  • Using these drugs during pregnancy doubles or triples the risk of various kinds of birth defects of the heart (hypoplastic left heart syndrome, atrioventricular septal defects, conoventricular septal defects, all of these heart conditions basicallyh being a problem with the heart forming chambers properly).

But even when the risk of these problems is doubled or tripled, the risk of the problem goes from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 1,000 up to about 1 in 200. There's still better than a 99% chance the baby will be free of birth defects--not that mothers even want to take that chance, of course.

The real problem is that the baby may be born addicted to the painkiller, too.

About 2 times out of 3, this doesn't happen. But about 1/3 of the time it does to some degree. That doesn't mean the baby is hooked for life, just that the baby will need some temporary help.

Adding to the problem is the fact that babies are unusually sensitive to Percocet. Adults feel relief from pain. Babies don't breathe properly. This is more of a problem when the baby is breast-fed by a mother who is still taking the drug. However, babies can be weaned off the drug (usually with morphine drops administered in hospital care) and overcome the addiction if they aren't exposed to the drugs all over again. Typically the baby is treated with a Percocet-like drug that the mother couldn't take easily even if she were tempted to do so.

What can a mother to be do if she is hooked on Percocet for pain relief? Here are some suggestions. I'm sorry none of these is easy.

  • It's better to come off the drug during pregnancy than after. But if you just can't, there are still greater than 99% chances that everything can be worked out for you and your baby.
  • Don't try to do this alone. Work with a doctor.
  • Don't just start taking some other pain medication. Many are more harmful for both you and your baby than Percocet.
  • Probably your doctor will advise you to reduce your dosage of Percocet slowly down the lowest possible level you can tolerate. Pain is not good for expecting mothers, either. Your doctor knows that, and may have other medications that are baby-safe. But unless you have extraordinary willpower, don't figure out your own dosing schedule. Chances are that you will "forget" that you took some pills. It's only natural, but it is potentially harmful for the baby.
  • Try natural alternatives for pain control. Percocet, ironically, is safer for your baby than many other painkillers, so you may want to try natural methods. Capsaicin creams aren't a cure, but they can help chronic back pain. (Don't get the cream in your eyes or on your nose.) Acupuncture often relieves pain for a while, and applying acupressure in the same places may help you between treatments. Plain old Aspirin can reduce inflammation-related pain, but you should not take so much that you get stomach problems. Magnesium taken in doses of up to 600 mg a day in three doses of 200 mg sometimes relieves chronic muscle pain. Teas of chamomile can relieve inflammatory pain, as can stinging nettle root teas and supplements. Cranberry juice is a standby for the pain of urinary tract infections. Even aromatherapy with peppermint oil (don't swallow it) can help with headache pain. But don't take huge amounts of any "natural" remedy. They do what they do, but there are limits to how much they can help you.
  • Line up good medical care for your baby. Your infant may need "rehab" as soon as she or he is born. You may need to be extra careful about how you place your child in the crib because of potential breathing issues. Even the most knowledgeable mothers usually need help with this.

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