Over two decades ago, the term “neonatal abstinence syndrome” was relatively unheard of in many states. However, it is different now as it has become quite a common occurrence in the newborn intensive care units (NICUs) in the United States. Babies with the syndrome were born with drug dependency.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are almost 25,000 babies who were born dependent on drugs in 2013. This means there is one baby born with the syndrome every 20 minutes.
How Babies Develop Drug Dependency
If the mother takes drugs during the time she was pregnant, the baby will often inherit that physical drug dependency. The moment the umbilical cord is cut after delivery, the baby goes through a withdrawal process known as going “cold turkey.”
Just like with adults, withdrawal from any addictive drug, such as heroin, can be difficult for the baby’s body. The newborn definitely struggles from the immediate detoxification and may suffer from withdrawal symptoms. Many babies cry incessantly and would often have difficulty in feeding. Even if they feed, they often vomit after feeding or may continue to have diarrhea.
There are also babies who become rigid after birth, while others twitch or jerk nonstop. Some newborns rub their bodies on clothing or blankets and they would have something equivalent to that of a rug burn. What is even more unfortunate is that there are some babies who have trouble breathing and others who go into convulsions.
Treatment for Drug-Addicted Babies
It is important that the baby who was born with drug addiction have treatment for the problem as quickly as possible. One of the recommended treatments is for the mother to spend time with the baby in the NICU. She should hold and cuddle the child, such as in kangaroo care or skin-to-skin contact. This method of holding the infant has shown to help many premature babies live and can be used to provide comfort for the drug dependent baby during the withdrawal process.
The treatment will generally depend on the hospital or the center. In general, the baby is given the same drug class he or she encountered while still in the womb. The amount will be gradually reduced each day. Weaning off the babies always takes time. However, it will usually depend on how long the mother used the drugs, the dose she used, and what kind of drugs were taken during pregnancy.