Pregnancy and Demerol Use: A Guide To Potential Side Effects

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Demerol (meperidine hydrochloride) is a pain-treating narcotic that alleviates discomfort during medical procedures such as labor and delivery. Demerol is administered orally or by injection and has been approved by the FDA for women to take during childbirth but not approved for use throughout pregnancy. The correlation between the labor process of pregnancy and Demerol use is one that carries risk and may produce side effects in some women and babies.

Is Demerol Safe During Pregnancy?

The FDA classifies Demerol as a Pregnancy Category C medication. This means that the drug’s effect on human fetuses is unknown but its effect on animal fetuses has proven in studies to be negative. For this reason, pregnant women are generally discouraged from using Demerol prior to the start of labor. In individual cases where pain management is needed during pregnancy, a physician must thoroughly evaluate both the risks and the benefits of prescribing Demerol.

When labor begins, Demerol can be injected into a patient in 50 to 100 mg doses, one to three hours apart. Potential risks to the mother and baby are reduced if the initial Demerol injection is delayed until delivery time is near.

Demerol Use During Labor And Delivery

Mothers in labor may experience a number of side effects as a result of using Demerol to manage pain. The potential risks for women delivering babies include:

  • Drowsiness and dizziness: Demerol is a sedative that may cause feelings of lightheadedness, dizziness, or fatigue.

  • Constipation: Women who experience constipation from Demerol use should eat high-fiber foods and can take a laxative.

  • Nausea and vomiting: This side effect is generally mild and can sometimes be alleviated through consistent rest.

  • Excessive sweating: Demerol can cause sweating and flushing of the skin in some women who use the drug during labor.

  • Stomach and abdominal pain: This side effect is less common but more serious in nature. Women who experience severe stomach pain from Demerol use should tell a physician immediately.

  • Breathing and heart rate irregularities: Demerol can rarely cause the heart rate to decrease, increase, or become irregular. Breathing may become shallow as well. This is a serious side effect that needs to be addressed promptly.

  • Allergic reactions: Though not common, an allergic reaction to Demerol is indicated through swelling of the face, a skin rash, itchiness, and breathing problems.

Babies who are born to mothers with Demerol in their systems are at risk for experiencing withdrawal symptoms as the narcotic effects of the drug wear off. These symptoms include:

  • Breathing problems: A baby with Demerol withdrawal may breathe at an increased rate.

  • Erowsiness: A newborn may act sleepy and yawn frequently.

  • Irritability: Babies who are experiencing Demerol withdrawal may cry consistently and seem irritable and hard to soothe.

  • Erratic bodily movements: Other signs of withdrawal may cause a newborn to shake, sneeze, or demonstrate hyperactive reflexes.

  • Fever and vomiting: A newborn may have an elevated temperature and may become nauseous as Demerol withdrawal takes place.

The side effects involved with delivering after pregnancy and Demerol use may be mild in some women and more severe in others. Pregnant women who are interested in exploring the option of receiving Demerol for pain during childbirth should consult with medical professionals about individual risk factors. Some medical conditions and drug interactions preclude women from being prescribed Demerol during labor and delivery.