Codeine in pregnancy


Codeine is usually prescribed for mild to moderate pain and sometimes to suppress a persistent cough.

Is it safe to take codeine while pregnant?

There is no yes or no answer to this question. When deciding whether or not to take codeine during pregnancy it’s important to weigh the benefits of using it against the known or possible risks, some of which will depend on how many weeks pregnant you are.

This leaflet summarizes scientific studies related to the effects of codeine on a baby in the womb. You are advised to consider this information before taking codeine if you are pregnant. Some women may need codeine treatment during pregnancy.

Your doctor is the best person to help you decide what’s right for you and your baby.

What if I have already taken codeine during pregnancy?

If you have been taking any medicines it is always a good idea to tell your doctor that you are pregnant so that we can decide together if you still need any medicines you are taking and to make sure you take the lowest dose that works.

Can taking codeine while pregnant cause my baby to be born with birth defects?

A baby’s body and most of its internal organs form during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It is mainly during this time that certain medications are known to cause birth defects.

There is no scientific evidence that taking codeine during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy causes birth defects. Most studies show that pregnant women who take codeine are no more likely to have a baby with a birth defect than women who don’t. When looking at specific types of birth defects, some studies have suggested a possible link between codeine use in pregnancy and certain heart defects, however other studies have shown no link.

Can taking codeine while pregnant cause miscarriage or stillbirth?

There is no known link between codeine use in pregnancy and miscarriage or stillbirth, however no scientific studies have been conducted that have specifically investigated this.

Can taking codeine while pregnant cause a premature birth or is my baby small at birth (low birth weight)?

In the only study that investigated this no link was found between the use of codeine in pregnancy and the baby born early (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) or weighing less than 2500 g. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings.

Can taking codeine while pregnant cause learning or behavioral problems in the baby?

A baby’s brain continues to develop until the end of pregnancy. It is therefore possible that taking certain medicines at any stage of pregnancy could have a lasting effect on the baby’s learning or behaviour. No studies have been done to see if there is an increased risk of learning and behavior problems in babies who were exposed to codeine in the womb.

Can taking codeine while pregnant cause other health problems for the baby?

**Respiratory problems at birth
**Codeine affects breathing in some people. It is possible that codeine taken by a mother close to giving birth could still be in a baby’s bloodstream at birth and could cause temporary breathing problems for the baby. Only one small study has investigated this. While this study didn’t show that babies exposed to codeine during pregnancy are at a higher risk of having breathing problems at birth, more information on more pregnant women is needed to be sure.

If you took codeine at the time of delivery, your doctor may recommend that you monitor your baby’s breathing after birth. If you are likely to be taking codeine towards the end of your pregnancy it is advisable to plan, with your doctor, where you are going to have your baby so that arrangements are already in place for monitoring your baby if necessary.

**Withdrawal symptoms at birth (;neonatal abstinence;)
**Codeine is changed in the body to morphine. Studies have shown that some babies who were exposed to morphine in utero experience withdrawal symptoms after birth (due to no longer receiving morphine through the placenta). Taking codeine late in pregnancy can also cause neonatal abstinence. If you took codeine at the time of delivery, your baby may be monitored for a few days after birth.

** Childhood Cancer
There is no evidence that taking codeine during pregnancy will cause cancer in your baby.**

One study showed that mothers of children who developed a type of cancer called neuroblastoma were more likely to take codeine during pregnancy. However, links have also been shown between neuroblastoma and many other factors. It is likely that some of these findings are a result of how the information was collected or analyzed and the fact that the mothers took codeine while pregnant could be a coincidental finding.

Will my baby need extra monitoring during pregnancy?

There is no evidence that taking codeine while pregnant causes problems that would require additional monitoring for the baby during pregnancy.

Is there any risk to my baby if the father has taken codeine?

We wouldn’t expect any increased risk to your baby if the father took codeine before or around the time you became pregnant.

Who can I talk to if I have questions?

If you have any questions about any of the information in this leaflet, please discuss them with your doctor

Katherine Johnson, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with clinical expertise in general obstetrics and gynecology, family planning, women’s health, and gynecology.

She is affiliated with the Obstetrics and Gynecology division at an undisclosed healthcare institution and the online platform,

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