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Over recent years, the number of infants that are born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is growing. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is when a child becomes dependent on the drugs that the mother has used while the baby resides in the womb. According to an editorial by Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “between 2000 and 2009, the incidence of NAS increased from 1.20 to 3.39 per 1000 live births,1 and between 2004 and 2013 the total percentage of days spent in intensive care because of NAS increased from 0.6% to 4.0%.” These statistics are believed to be a response to and a result of the recent increase in the use and abuse of opioid-based substances.

Following the birth of the newborn, he or she typically begins to suffer from withdrawal symptoms. All the infants that have encountered a substance while in the womb, whether it be alcohol, marijuana or opioids, all fall under the category of substance-exposed newborns (SEN). It is possible that some of the infants can get by without the assistance of medication. However, about 60% require assistance from alternative substances such as methadone to be tapered off from the drugs and to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms that the babies experience are more or less the same as adults being:

  • Crying
  • Irritability
  • Sleepiness
  • Possibility of seizures

It is important to recognize that while the mother is technically at fault, odds are they are doing their best to fight the addiction so that their newborn is not harmed, or so they can be the good parent that they hope to be. Therefore, added negativity from peers and family members against the mothers in this instance can add on to the pressure they have already placed upon themselves. This can lead to continued or even increased use of the drug of choice. Some states such as Tennessee have a law that any mother who caused her newborn to have neonatal abstinence syndrome could be charged with fetal assault. However, now more progressive movements towards the idea of treatment and rehabilitation has lead to questioning laws of this type. It is getting to the point where more people want to help the mothers kick their addiction so that they can be good mothers. The punishment of putting the addicted mothers in jail does much more than hurt just the mother, it also hurts the newborn that is taken from her. A number of communities have actually created programs and support groups specifically for pregnant women and mothers who are struggling with addiction.

Sadly with this being more of a recent event, there has not been much research conducted to determine the long-term effects that these babies experience as a result of having neonatal abstinence syndrome. With the numbers of substance use increasing every day, specifically heroin and other opiates, it is necessary to begin implementing and improving already established programs. Not only to help the infants, but to help the mothers who deserve the chance to take care of their child.

If you or someone you love has a problem with alcohol, call the professionals at Serenity Acres today, at 1-800-203-2024.