Date: May 2023, Version 3.0

Quick read

Buprenorphine might occasionally be prescribed in pregnancy to treat severe pain if other drugs have not worked.

Buprenorphine might also be used as part of a supervised programme to help people who are trying to come off recreational opioid drugs.

What is it?

Buprenorphine (Bunov®, Bupeaze®, Bupramyl®, Butec®, BuTrans®, Buvidal®, Carlosafine®, Espranor®, Hapoctasin®, Natzon®, Panitaz®, Prefibin®, Rebrikel®, Reletrans®, Relevtec®, Sevodyne®, Subutex®, Sixmo®, Transtec®, Temgesic®, Tephine®) is used to treat severe, long-term pain. It might also be given as part of an anaesthetic during surgery. It is also used in some supervised drug withdrawal programmes to help people stop recreational use of other opioid drugs.


What are the benefits of taking buprenorphine in pregnancy?

Buprenorphine is a strong painkiller and might control severe pain where other painkillers have not.

Using buprenorphine in a supervised drug withdrawal programme is likely to be safer than using recreational drugs that might be mixed with different substances and are also of unknown strength.


Are there any risks of taking buprenorphine during pregnancy?

The available information does not suggest buprenorphine affects the baby’s development, although more research is required to fully rule out problems. 

Buprenorphine used around the time of delivery can affect the baby after birth. The baby may be ‘jittery’, have feeding problems, and initially need some help with breathing. These problems usually settle within the first few days. 

Pregnant women who take buprenorphine should contact their GP or specialist as soon as possible. Their doctor will review whether buprenorphine is still needed and ensure that the dose is correct. Pregnant women should not stop taking buprenorphine or change the dose without speaking to their doctor.


Are there any alternatives to taking buprenorphine?

Possibly. Other medicines can be used to treat pain and to help with opioid dependence in pregnancy. However, if a doctor has offered buprenorphine, this will be based on several factors, including which medications have already been tried, the likelihood of a medical condition not being as well-controlled with another drug, and possible side effects if the medicine is changed. Women who have any questions about a medicine that they are offered in pregnancy should speak to their doctor or midwife.

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What if I prefer not to take medicines during pregnancy?

Severe pain can greatly affect quality of life. It can cause difficulty sleeping and mental health problems. Use of recreational drugs can be dangerous to both the woman and her baby. Doctors may suggest use of buprenorphine in pregnancy if they think that the benefits outweigh any possible risks to the baby. 

Will my baby need extra monitoring?

Women in the UK will be offered a very detailed scan at around 20 weeks of pregnancy as part of routine antenatal care. Taking buprenorphine in pregnancy is not expected to cause problems that would require any extra monitoring of a baby prior to birth. 

Babies who were exposed to buprenorphine in the womb before delivery will be more closely monitored for a while after birth to ensure that they are breathing and feeding as normal.

Are there any risks to my baby if the father has taken buprenorphine?

We would not expect any increased risk to your baby if the father takes buprenorphine.

Who can I talk to if I have questions?

If you have any questions regarding the information in this leaflet please discuss them with your health care provider. They can access more detailed medical and scientific information from www.uktis.org

How can I help to improve drug safety information for pregnant women in the future?

Our online reporting system (MyBump Portal) allows women who are currently pregnant to create a secure record of their pregnancy, collected through a series of questionnaires. You will be asked to enter information about your health, whether or not you take any medicines, your pregnancy outcome and your child's development. You can update your details at any time during pregnancy or afterwards. This information will help us better understand how medicines affect the health of pregnant women and their babies. Please visit the MyBump Portal to register.

General information
Sadly, miscarriage and birth defects can occur in any pregnancy.

Miscarriage occurs in about 1 in every 5 pregnancies, and 1 in every 40 babies are born with a birth defect. This is called the ‘background risk’ and happens whether medication is taken or not.

Most medicines cross the placenta and reach the baby. For many medications this is not a problem. However, some medicines can affect a baby’s growth and development.

If you take regular medication and are planning to conceive, you should discuss whether your medicine is safe to continue with your doctor/health care team before becoming pregnant. If you have an unplanned pregnancy while taking a medicine, you should tell your doctor as soon as possible.

If a new medicine is suggested for you during pregnancy, please make sure that the person prescribing it knows that you are pregnant. If you have any concerns about a medicine, you can check with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist.

Our Bumps information leaflets provide information about the effects of medicines in pregnancy so that you can decide, together with your healthcare provider, what is best for you and your baby.