Date: December 2022, Version 3

Quick read

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

What is it?

Fentanyl (Abstral®, Effentora®, Instanyl®, PecFent®, Fenhuma®, Actiq®, Cynril®, Sublimaze®, Durogesic®, Fencino®, Matrifen®, Mezolar®, Opiodur®, Victanyl®, Yemex®) is used to treat severe, long-term pain. It might also be given as part of an anaesthetic during surgery.


What are the benefits of using fentanyl in pregnancy?

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


What are the risks of using fentanyl in pregnancy?

Very few pregnant women taking fentanyl have been studied. Although the available information does not suggest fentanyl affects the baby’s development, more research is required to rule out problems.

Fentanyl 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 fentanyl should contact their GP or pain specialist as soon as possible. Their doctor will review whether fentanyl is still needed and ensure that the dose is correct. Pregnant women should not stop taking fentanyl or change the dose without speaking to a health care professional.


Are there any alternatives to using fentanyl in pregnancy?

Possibly. Other medicines can be used to treat pain in pregnancy. However, if a doctor has offered fentanyl, this will be based on several factors, including which painkillers have already been tried, the likelihood of a medical condition not being as well-controlled with another painkiller, 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. Doctors may suggest use of fentanyl in pregnancy if they think that the benefits of controlling pain outweigh any possible risks to the baby.

Will I or my baby need extra monitoring during pregnancy?

Women in the UK will be offered a very detailed scan at around 20 weeks of pregnancy as part of routine antenatal care. Taking fentanyl 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 fentanyl 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 fentanyl?

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

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.