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What Are the Effects of Percocet in Pregnancy?

author image Roxanne Maas
Based in Los Angeles, Roxanne Maas holds a master's degree in genetic counseling with more than 12 years of experience communicating complex genetics and pregnancy information. She has published several abstracts in scientific journals, presented posters at national genetics meetings, and published health-related articles on LIVESTRONG.com.
What Are the Effects of Percocet in Pregnancy?
Percocet is not recommended during pregnancy unless other options aren't working. Photo Credit pills image by tim elliott from Fotolia.com

Percocet is a combination drug consisting of oxycodone and acetaminophen. Percocet works as a pain reliever, fever reducer and calming agent. Although acetaminophen is widely regarded as being safe during pregnancy, the risks of oxycodone are less known. Due to concerns about possible risks of birth defects, dependency and withdrawal symptoms, Drugs.com recommends that acetaminophen-oxycodone containing products only be used during pregnancy when there are no alternatives and benefits outweigh risks.

Pain Relief

Both acetaminophen and oxycodone are effective pain relievers. Acetaminophen, most commonly encountered as Tylenol, may be used for headaches, muscle aches and other body pains, in addition to treating fever. Oxycodone is a more powerful narcotic pain reliever; according to DrugsEncyclopedia.net, oxycodone is 7 to 12 times stronger than codeine and 0.3 to 2.2 times stronger than morphine. When used in combination, acetaminophen and oxycodone offer strong relief for a variety of aches and pains.

Possible Birth Defects

Acetaminophen is commonly used for pain relief and fever reduction throughout pregnancy and is believed to be safe for the mother and fetus. Oxycodone, however, has not been as thoroughly studied, and it is unclear whether it may pose risks to the fetus. According to DrugsEncyclopedia.net, oxycodone is believed to carry a small risk of causing birth defects, but no specific pattern of birth defects has been identified. However, a section in the book "Drugs in Pregnancy and Lactation" on oxycodone reports that data from a study on 281 newborns exposed to oxycodone during the first trimester did not find an increased risk of major malformations.

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Possible Dependence

Like other narcotics, Percocet has the ability to cause physical and psychological dependence in users. Percocet should always be used under a doctor's supervision, and the user should not take more than the prescribed dose. Sometimes given the euphoria they feel and the welcome relief from pain, users start taking more of the drug, which builds up tolerance to and dependence on the drug, leading to more usage of the drug. People who use Percocet must be made aware of this possible addiction trap, particularly during pregnancy due the potential risks for the fetus.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Percocet may cause withdrawal symptoms in the mother and baby if it is used frequently during pregnancy, especially in the last few days, and then suddenly discontinued. Percocet passes through the placenta and into the fetal blood stream, so if the medication is in the baby's bloodstream right up until the time of birth, the baby will experience a sharp drop in the drug at birth. This may result in temporary minor withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness and difficulty sleeping. Withdrawal symptoms may be more severe in the mother, depending on how often she was using Percocet. Withdrawal symptoms can be avoided if Percocet is gradually discontinued before birth, rather than stopped suddenly.

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