Addiction Helpline and Resource Center

What Is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome?

What Is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome?The average person knows that pregnant women should abstain from drinking, abusing drugs, and engaging in other behaviors that can pose a potential risk for the baby growing inside of her womb. When an addict falls pregnant, it is simply not as easy as just ceasing all harmful behaviors. If it were that simple to kick a dangerous addiction, then more women would simply put down the bottle or the drugs and walk away.

The solution for those struggling with drug abuse during pregnancy is to enter into a qualified rehab for mothers-to-be. Untreated addiction in pregnancy can result in neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is a set of problems that occur in newborns that were exposed in the womb to a variety of addictive drugs, including prescription drugs.

The Causes of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Neonatal abstinence syndrome is very similar in nature to another set of newborn problems that you may be more familiar with: fetal alcohol syndrome. As with fetal alcohol syndrome, babies that are born addicted to the substance their mother was taking are at risk for a great number of health concerns.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome occurs when the pregnant woman takes drugs that fall both into the illicit and prescription category. Some of the drugs that fall into these categories include the following:

  • Marijuana
  • Barbiturates
  • Amphetamines
  • Cocaine
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Opiates, including codeine, heroin, and methadone

There are a large number of substances that can pass through the placental barrier during pregnancy, and these drugs are just some of them. As the baby is exposed to the drugs he forms an addiction, along with his mother. The sad reality is that most babies exposed to drugs while in the womb are born premature, which alone presents a large number of concerns. Once born, the baby is still very much dependent on the drug and can suffer extreme symptoms of withdrawal.

The Symptoms of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Some of the symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome in babies born to mothers who engaged in drug abuse during pregnancy could appear within hours of delivery, or they could show up a few days later. The severity of the symptoms will depend largely on the type of drug that the mother was taking, the frequency and amount of the drug taken, and of course whether the baby was born prematurely. Prematurity can lead to respiratory distress, underdeveloped lungs, heart, kidney, and more; all of which put the baby at a higher risk of complications from the symptoms of withdrawal.

Some of the symptoms of unassisted drug withdrawal could include the following:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea, and resulting dehydration
  • Blotchy skin
  • Excessive and inconsolable crying
  • Fever and sweating
  • Poor ability to feed, despite excessive sucking on a bottle or pacifier
  • Rapid heart rate and breathing
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Dehydration alone can quickly lead to seizures and permanent brain damage, so it is vital that newborns born to those who struggled with addiction in pregnancy are treated in a neonatal intensive care unit. Treatment for each baby will vary, based upon the types of drugs involved, the overall health of the baby, and whether the baby was premature or born full-term.

In severe cases the baby may need to be prescribed a drug similar to those it was exposed to in the womb so that the dosage can be closely decreased in order to wean the baby off of the drug. This can sometimes help with the severity of the withdrawal symptoms.

Getting Treatment for Drug Abuse during Pregnancy

Neonatal abstinence syndrome is certainly not the only complication that infants born to addicted mothers face. Addiction in pregnancy can also result in a number of health concerns for the baby, including severe birth defects, low birth weight, and an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The best way to help your baby avoid these health problems is to detox during pregnancy and do your utmost to maintain a healthy body and mind for the duration of your pregnancy.

A rehab for mothers to be will be familiar with the health needs of addicted women, and will be able to help each addict with facing detox during pregnancy. Some addicts mistakenly believe that detox during pregnancy is much more harmful to the baby than simply continuing with addiction in pregnancy. The reality is that the sooner you go through safe, medically supervised detox and recovery, the better the odds you will be giving your baby a healthier life.

Our helpline is staffed around the clock, with compassionate counselors who can help provide you with guidance with drug abuse during pregnancy. Calls are completely confidential and will be a positive step in ensuring that your baby is not born with the complications of neonatal abstinence syndrome.

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