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A newborn baby whose mother used meth or some other opioid drug during pregnancy will experience withdrawal symptoms, because its drug source has been cut off along with umbilical cord. The condition is known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

All drugs have an effect on a newborn and some cause mild Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, while others cause severe NAS. Methadone causes Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in more than 50 percent of babies who were exposed prenatally. In the case of heroin and methadone use, the withdrawal symptoms can last for months before they completely vanish.   

NAS has a huge clinical significance. Some other concerns related to it are HIV, HBV, HCV, and STDs. This applies only to mothers who have a history of intravenous drug consumption or promiscuous behavior.

Some of the difficulties babies born to drug-addicted mothers face after birth are (this is not a definitive list):

  • Premature birth
  • Poor growth and low body weight on birth
  • Defects
  • Seizures

Depending on if the baby is full-term or premature, and what substances the mother used, symptoms of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome may vary. In some cases, withdrawal beings 24 hours after birth and in some 10 days later. Premature babies tend to have less severe withdrawal and recover faster. Each baby goes through its own withdrawal period, but some general NAS outline is brought to readers here.

  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Trembling
  • Crying (high pitch)
  • Irritability
  • Seizures
  • Hyper- reflexes
  • Poor sucking reflex
  • Excessive sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Unstable body temperature
  • Stiffness of the limbs
  • Sneezing, yawning, stuffy nose

An important diagnostic tool is a scoring system (points are assigned to certain findings and the mother’s drug use). Depending on the score, doctors can evaluate how severe the withdrawal is going to be and what the best treatment plan is. The most important predictor of the severity of NAS is polysubstance abuse — the more drugs mother used, the worse Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome will be [1].

Depending on the baby’s age, medical history, overall health, tolerance for specific medications, and expectations how the disease will run its course, doctors make a definitive treatment plan.

Comforting a baby during their withdrawal period is not an easy task. Sometimes warm baths help them, sometimes wrapping the baby in a blanket will help, sometimes they won’t react to those two… A more calorie-heavy diet is usually recommended because of these babies' increased activity. Vomiting and diarrhea may lead to dehydration and in such cases, intravenous fluids are needed.

Treating severe withdrawal syndrome includes the use of certain medications. Seizures, for example, need to be treated with medications and the drugs that are being used are usually similar to the drugs the baby is withdrawing from. Once the withdrawal is under control, the dosage of a drug is gradually decreased until the baby is off the drug. Methadone is routinely used as a treatment but some recent studies suggest that morphine is a better choice, since the Cognitive and Gross Motor Domain scores are better in babies treated with morphine [2].

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