There is conflicting evidence regarding the safety of using Xanax while pregnant. If you use Xanax and are pregnant or are planning on getting pregnant, you should discuss this with a doctor or addiction specialist. A specialist can help you determine the best course of action and whether or not there is a need for professional treatment.
Xanax (alprazolam) is a benzodiazepine medication commonly used to treat anxiety, panic disorders, and seizures. Women who suffer from these conditions and are pregnant or trying to conceive may be concerned about using medications such as Xanax, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer, as various studies focused on alprazolam use during pregnancy have revealed different results.
There is also conflicting evidence regarding stress and its impact on a baby in utero. Some research has found neither generalized anxiety or panic disorder increased adverse outcomes in newborns. Still, other studies have found that severe versus mild-moderate stress may have a more dramatic effect on an unborn baby.
Before making a decision, it is vital to talk to a health professional who can conduct a risk-benefit analysis and be able to educate patients on current research regarding Xanax and pregnancy. For those who feel that the baby will be better off if they quit, detox and/or long-term treatment for drug dependency may be the most beneficial.
Potential Effects on an Unborn Child
In many cases, when a mother uses a substance, the baby is exposed to it as well. Exposure occurs because drugs or alcohol are likely to pass through the placenta to the fetus. All psychiatric medications, including Xanax, travel through the placenta, and some research has shown an increased risk of specific types of congenital disabilities. However, the risk of these effects following prenatal exposure to certain drugs may not be as high as previously believed.
While the use of Xanax while pregnant may increase the risk of some birth defects, research hasn’t ascertained the exact amount of risk. One long-term study that out of 542 women who had taken Xanax while expecting, there were only 13 live births with congenital anomalies and 47 miscarriages. These numbers were not statistically significant, but the study itself wasn’t deemed to be large enough to be conclusive.
Another report suggested that the risk of cleft lip and palate associated with using benzodiazepines during the first trimester was considered to be relatively small—around 0.7%. Still, a clinical review from the 1970s proposed an increased risk of facial clefts and other malformations. However, the researchers acknowledged that many of the women examined in the study had complex psychological problems and were using multiple medications, which also could have contributed to defects.
Overall, in most studies, the majority of infants were born normally, and the highest risk appeared to be taking benzodiazepines in the third trimester or during labor. Although results from several studies revealed several congenital disabilities in newborns, no causal relationship has, as of yet, been found between Xanax use and congenital anomalies.
It is clear that additional research and more extensive studies need to be conducted to find a more definitive answer. At this time, most experts believe the risk to be rather small—but there is still a risk. For many women, using psychoactive substances while pregnant is scary, and most women, understandably, choose to err on the side of caution.
When it comes to using substances while pregnant, much of the desire to abstain may have less to do with the actual risk and more to do with the fear of potentially negative outcomes. Moreover, if a child is born with birth abnormalities, the mother will often question whether or not she could have done something (or not done something) to prevent it from happening. Many women would rather not have to wonder if their child’s defect(s) was preventable, or if it resulted from something potentially harmful that they chose to put in their bodies.
Long-term benzodiazepine use can result in dependence in both the mother and the unborn child, especially when used late in pregnancy and in high doses. Some infants may exhibit withdrawal symptoms at birth, which may include the following:
- Decreased muscle tone
- Reluctance to suckle
- Sleep apnea
- Cyanosis (bluish or purplish skin)
- Insensitivity to cold
- Seizures (rare)
In some cases, because of the risks of discontinuing Xanax related to the safety of the fetus, a doctor may continue prescribing it or other benzodiazepines to a dependent mother throughout her pregnancy, even if her clinical symptoms have subsided. Another example of a potential complication for an unborn baby is hypotonia (floppy baby syndrome).
Symptoms of hypotonia may include the following:
- Weak cry or quiet voice
- Impaired respiration
- Problems with feeding
- Poor head control
- Limpness and hanging limbs
It’s crucial to remember that there is still some controversy surrounding the safety of using Xanax while pregnant, and many doctors continue to prescribe it to reduce symptoms of anxiety. In fact, it is believed that as many as one-third of all pregnant women receive psychotropic medications to manage mental health disorders diagnosed before pregnancy.
Risks of Untreated Anxiety
Symptoms of anxiety can become worse if left untreated and can have adverse consequences for both the mother and the infant. For example, pregnant women with an untreated panic disorder may have a higher risk of premature birth and miscarriage. Research has also found that an increase in symptoms related to anxiety disorders is common both before and after a woman gives birth.
Although data is somewhat limited, it appears that specific anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety, occur with higher frequency in women postpartum than in the general population. If severe enough, this could impair a mother’s ability to care for her child, and in extreme cases, she might even endanger it. There is also an increased risk of heightened anxiety during pregnancy and the postpartum period. This is true whether she is being treated for it or not.
Discussing the pros and cons of discontinuing Xanax with a medical professional is, ultimately, the best way to make an informed decision regarding the health of both you and your baby.
Getting Treatment for Drug Dependence
If you are trying to get pregnant or considering it, and are dependent upon Xanax or another benzodiazepine and want to quit, you may benefit from professional help. The long-term use of Xanax is guaranteed to result in some level of dependence, and most patients need to undergo a tapering schedule. However, medical detox is also sometimes used to facilitate this process.
Harmony Recovery Center features integrated programs designed to treat all aspects of an individual’s emotional well-being, including issues related to substance use and mental health conditions, such as anxiety. These programs include evidence-based services, such as behavioral and experiential therapies, EDMR, individual and group counseling, group support, aftercare planning, and more.
If you are ready to take the first step toward overcoming substance abuse or addiction, contact us today! We aim to help those who need it most get clean and foster the healthy, fulfilling lives they deserve!