It is difficult to determine whether or not any medication is 100-percent safe for use during pregnancy, and codeine is no exception. Studies of codeine use during pregnancy have not ruled out the risks of effecting developing babies. In general, doctors avoid prescribing it unless they determine that the benefits of using the medication outweigh the potential risks a woman accepts when taking it. Chief of these risks may be growth retardation and fetal dependence on the drug. There is also the chance that the fetus will suffer withdrawal symptoms when his mother stops taking the medication.
Generally, doctors are reluctant to prescribe medication in general during pregnancy. This is due to the fact that it is difficult to know whether or not even a mild medication will cause a birth defect or otherwise affect the fetus in an adverse manner. Doctors do prescribe codeine during pregnancy, however, when they determine that the benefits to the expectant mother will outweigh the risks to the fetus. For example, if a woman is suffering from moderate-to-severe pain, a doctor may prescribe codeine to relieve it. In some cases, doctors also prescribe codeine to help suppress coughing.
The safety of codeine during pregnancy is uncertain because there have not been enough controlled studies to determine whether or not it represents a serious risk for a developing baby. The main risk potential for using codeine during pregnancy seems to be dependence. Codeine may be addictive not only for an expectant mother, but also for her developing baby. Additionally, there is the concern that using codeine during pregnancy may result in retardation of the fetus’ growth. In fact, codeine use may even cause a fetus to suffer withdrawal symptoms when the expectant mother stops taking it.
If a doctor determines that the expectant mother’s need for treatment outweighs the risk of taking codeine during pregnancy, he may prescribe the medication for her, taking care with the dosage. In most cases, he will prescribe the lowest dosage that will relieve her pain or suppress her cough; the lower dosage may help to minimize the risk to the baby. He may also recommend that she discontinue use of the medication as soon as her symptoms have subsided or become more bearable. Once the expectant mother gives birth, the use of codeine may be less of a concern. Though the drug can be passed through breast milk, the use of codeine during breastfeeding isn't associated with a high level of risk.