Since endogenous opiate mechanisms are activated during parturition, the present study examined in rats the effects of opiate antagonism on maternal care during and shortly after parturition. Endogenous opiate mechanisms were blocked in late pregnant rats by (1) naltrexone pellet implants (Experiment 1); (2) acute naloxone injections of 10 mg/kg (Experiment 2) or 0.1 mg/kg (Experiment 7); or (3) induction of opiate tolerance (Experiment 3). All methods resulted in a significant decrease in placentophagia and/or in cleaning pups of umbilical cords and birth fluids (Experiment 6). Other aspects of maternal care appeared relatively unaffected and 24 hr pup survival rates were lowered only by induction of morphine tolerance (probably via its effects on the young). In nonpregnant females, naloxone produced a small but significant decrease in placentophagia (Experiment 4) whereas morphine-tolerant nonpregnant females consumed placentas as readily as controls (Experiment 5). Thus the inhibition of placentophagia produced by opiate antagonism may be specific to conditions associated with parturition. These findings suggest that endogenous opiates support placenta eating and pup cleaning during and immediately after birth. Mediation may be via opiate effects on ingestive behavior, and/or via a reduction in the stress of parturition which otherwise can interfere with the female's ability to perform these tasks.
- Opiate antagonism