Identifying Babies Born Exposed to Opioids and Gabapentin Can Improve Treatment

Newborn baby in a small hospital beds

A study by Marshall University, in collaboration with CDC, found that identifying babies exposed to opioids and gabapentin in the womb may result in better treatment and shorter hospital stays. Opioids and gabapentin are medicines used to treat some types of pain or to treat opioid use disorder. Healthcare providers should closely watch pregnant women with opioid use to carefully manage the medical care for both mother and baby during pregnancy and after delivery. One of the concerns is withdrawal symptoms in the newborn.

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Main Findings

  • Laboratory screening of all women after delivery allowed healthcare providers to identify more newborns with withdrawal symptoms.
  • Identifying exposure as soon as possible allowed for better treatment and likely resulted in shorter hospital stays for newborns.
    • Before laboratory screening of all women, newborns with co-exposure began treatment around day 20. After screening began, newborns began treatment around day 14 of life.
    • Before laboratory screening of all women, newborns with co-exposure had an average hospital stay of 58 days. After screening began, newborns had an average hospital stay of 48 days.
  • Figuring out which substances newborns are exposed to during pregnancy can help decide their care and treatment. Laboratory screening of all women after delivery can be considered as a complement to continued discussion about medicine and substance use between healthcare providers and patients.
What Do Women Need to Know?

Some women need to take an opioid medicine during pregnancy for pain or to treat opioid use disorder. Talk with a healthcare provider if you’re pregnant or could become pregnant and encounter opioids (or other substances).

About This Study

  • Infants exposed to opioids during pregnancy can have withdrawal symptoms after birth. However, infants exposed to both opioids and gabapentin during pregnancy may have uncommon withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include rapid eye movement, restlessness of the arms and legs, tongue thrusting, back arching, and involuntary muscle twitching.
  • These study findings are based on information from one hospital. Results may vary in other healthcare settings and among different patient populations.
  • There is limited information about the longer-term outcomes of children exposed to opioids and gabapentin during pregnancy. More research is needed to understand the full impact of multiple substance use during pregnancy on infants.

Our Work

CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) is leveraging existing systems to understand the occurrence, severity, and long-term developmental and educational outcomes among infants exposed to opioids during pregnancy. NCBDDD is also working with states to better understand how opioids and other substances during pregnancy impact children’s health. Working with other CDC Centers, NCBDDD is also building state and local capacity to use data to better understand community needs and policy gaps and to identify best practices to reduce maternal opioid use.

More Information

Key Findings Reference

Loudin S, Haas J, Payne M, Linz MF, Meaney-Delman D, Honein MA, Saunders A. Identifying Co-Exposure to Opiates and Gabapentin During Pregnancy. The Journal of Pediatrics. 2019 Oct 24. [Epub ahead of print]

Page last reviewed: November 25, 2019