Understanding Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

newborn baby

Substance abuse can have a devastating impact on your body, on your life and on the lives of those around you. While you are pregnant, the choices you make can impact the future health of your baby. If you use drugs while you are pregnant, there is a chance that your baby will develop neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Understanding the effects of your substance abuse on the health of your child can help you make the best choice for you and your baby.

What Is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome?

During pregnancy, a baby relies on the mother’s body for everything. The placenta links mother and child together, and while they are connected, a baby shares the mother’s drug habit. Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is the withdrawal suffered by a child born to a woman who struggles with drug abuse.

Not all children born to mothers with substance abuse issues develop NAS, and the type of drug used can affect the risk of neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Over half the children born to heroin users develop NAS. Opiates like heroin or methadone can cause the first few weeks after birth to be full of painful withdrawal symptoms. Cocaine may not cause as severe withdrawal symptoms, but the drug itself can be toxic to a child.

It’s also important to know that drug use during pregnancy can lead to other issues, such as poor growth in the womb, birth defects, seizures and premature birth. These effects can have a lifetime impact on your child.

The prevalence of neonatal abstinence syndrome is on the rise as heroin and other drug use also increases. From 2009 to 2012, instances of NAS almost doubled. Every 25 minutes, a child is born suffering from NAS.

How Do You Recognize the Symptoms in Your Child?

Though babies are not guaranteed to develop neonatal abstinence syndrome, it’s important to be able to recognize the symptoms in your child. Children born with NAS may show these symptoms:

  • Excessive crying
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Seizures
  • Slow weight gain
  • Tremors
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Watching for these symptoms can help you determine if your child is suffering from NAS, and if these symptoms exist, it’s vital for your child to receive medical attention. Experiencing withdrawal can be terrifying, painful and possibly even fatal, for an infant especially.

What Can Be Done?

Doctors often administer morphine in small doses to help reduce the withdrawal symptoms. Morphine, an opioid, interacts with the same receptors in the brain as heroin, and by incrementally reducing the dosage of morphine, your baby can safely endure withdrawal symptoms.

The best way to help your child is to seek treatment for yourself before you give birth. With the aid of doctors and medication, you can have a safe pregnancy and overcome your own substance abuse issues, creating a healthier environment for your child to grow.

Methadone treatment and proper prenatal care can help reduce the impact of neonatal abstinence syndrome. Infants born after the mother undergoes methadone treatment may still suffer withdrawal, but those symptoms are greatly reduced.

If you struggle with substance abuse and are pregnant, your child may develop neonatal abstinence syndrome after birth, but with time and the proper care, both you and your child can live full, healthy lives.

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