Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, often referred to as NAS, is what occurs when babies have experienced drug exposure whilst in the uterus before they’re born. Often seen with opioid medicines, babies can potentially go through drug withdrawal after birth if they’ve been exposed to these substances during the pregnancy.
If an expectant mother consumes drugs whilst pregnant, these drugs can reach the baby by passing from their bloodstream via the placenta. Any substances that can affect the mother’s nervous system, can also affect the baby’s nervous system.
As the baby will become familiar with the drug, when they’re born and no longer consume it, they may have withdrawal symptoms as a result.
There are some drugs or medicines which have a greater chance of causing neonatal abstinence syndrome, however, in cases where more than one substance has been consumed, the symptoms can often appear much worse.
What Causes NAS?
Some of these substances are opioids such as heroin or prescribed medication like codeine and oxycodone, antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, depressants such as alcohol, barbiturates, or marijuana, the nicotine from cigarettes, and amphetamines or cocaine stimulants.
Certain drugs have been known to lead to specific problems with the affected baby.
For example, cocaine can cause poor growth and increase the likelihood of complications such as placental abruption, marijuana can cause lower birth weight and later learning or behavioural issues, and smoking cigarettes can also cause a lower birth weight and puts the babies at higher risk of stillbirth or premature birth.
Heroin and other opioids can cause seizures and serious withdrawal symptoms in the baby with the potential to last up to 4-6 months long.
Amphetamines can also lead to premature birth and low birth weight, and alcohol can have major effects on babies before and after birth, affecting growth and certain problems with their head and face, heart defects, mental health problems, and learning problems.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome?
There are various signs and symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome, but these can vary widely depending on when the drug was last consumed, the type of drug, and if the baby is premature or full-term.
If withdrawal symptoms occur, then they can begin just 24-48 hours after the baby is born, however, they may also be delayed and start 5-10 days after birth.
With full-term babies, some common withdrawal symptoms include sleep problems, trouble breathing, blotchy skin, trembling, high-pitched crying or too much crying, seizures, tight muscle tone, fever or unstable temperature, sweating, overactive reflexes, vomiting or diarrhoea, stuffy nose, and sneezing.
If a baby is born premature, it’s possible that their risk of experiencing withdrawal symptoms is slightly lower or they may have symptoms that aren’t as severe as commonly seen in full-term babies.
They’re also more likely to overcome the symptoms faster as they’ve had less exposure time babies who were born full term.
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome not only causes problems of withdrawal after birth but can also cause complications such as being born prematurely, poor growth in the uterus, birth defects, seizures, or yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice).
How is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Diagnosed?
Of course, some of these symptoms are similar to other health conditions so if you’re concerned, it’s important to see a healthcare provider to receive a diagnosis. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome can be diagnosed based on the mother’s medical history and on the baby’s symptoms.
It’s crucial that the mother is completely honest about their drug use and when the drugs were last consumed. From this assessment, the doctor can then use a scoring system to help determine how severe the baby’s withdrawal is.
Will my Baby Need Treatment?
If a baby is born with any of these symptoms, they may require medical treatment. One of the methods of treatment is to give the baby small amounts of medicine that is like the drug that the mother consumed during pregnancy as this will help to ease the withdrawal.
The volume of this medicine will gradually be reduced until the baby no longer requires the medicine and is no longer having withdrawal symptoms.
Parents can also help to ease the baby’s discomfort by applying skin-to-skin care, wrapping them tightly in a blanket, giving them plenty of quiet and darkness, or regularly rocking them. They may also require additional calories in their feeding routine or intravenous fluids (IV) to help with dehydration, vomiting, or diarrhoea.
Doctors will encourage parents to feed their baby on demand and to hold or cuddle their baby whenever they’re crying.
When the parents are more involved in their baby’s care, this can help to reduce the amount of medical care or medicine that the baby will require, speeding up their recovery.
Get Rehab Treatment
In addition to helping the baby overcome their withdrawal and any other symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome, it’s crucial to ensure that the mother is also receiving professional addiction treatment if they’re addicted to drugs or alcohol or if they’re abusing any substances.
Contacting a recognised private rehab centre is the first step to receiving the essential care that you need to recover from substance abuse.
There is no way to fully overcome your substance abuse without the support of a professional medical team, it’s vital that you take care of yourself first and foremost so that you can therefore take the best care of your baby to create a happier and healthier future for you both.
At Rehabs Clinic Group, we tailor all our client’s treatment programmes to ensure they receive the most beneficial therapies to achieve an effective long-term recovery. We deliver a range of psychological and well-being therapies, combined with physical detoxification.
Some of these therapies include stress management, relapse prevention, counselling, mediation, cognitive behavioural therapy, relaxation and sleep management, art therapy, mindfulness, music therapy, meditation, and fitness therapy.
Contact us today to find out more about our rehab services.