Neonatal abstinence syndrome is a serious disorder that can impact a pregnant mother and her developing baby. Neonatal abstinence syndrome is a series of complications that can occur in a newborn who was exposed to opiate drugs while in the womb. Symptoms can develop as the baby begins withdrawing from the drug he or she was exposed to while in utero, typically within one to three days of birth. These can include irritability, seizures, excessive crying, sleeping difficulties, vomiting and diarrhea. In severe cases, a baby who develops neonatal abstinence syndrome might also be born prematurely, have low birth weight or have an increased risk of experiencing sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Understanding the factors that can increase a mother’s risk for abusing opiate drugs is necessary to refining preventative measures. As neonatal abstinence syndrome puts an increased burden on families and the health system, establishing prevention and treatment strategies can be an effective way of approaching this devastating disorder.
Recent research has uncovered the connection between opioid prescriptions and the increase in neonatal abstinence syndrome. Conducted by researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, this study investigated the impact of prescriptions for opioid medications on women during pregnancy. By reviewing approximately three years of data on more than 100,000 pregnant women, researchers found that roughly 28 percent of the expecting mothers had received at least one prescription for an opioid pain reliever. Furthermore, researchers discovered that of the babies in the sample group who were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, 65 percent of the mothers had received legal prescriptions for an opioid medication. Pregnant women who were actively taking an opioid prescription during pregnancy were more likely to be suffering with a mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, or to have physical ailments, such as headaches, migraines or musculoskeletal diseases.
In response to the findings from this study, lead researcher Stephen Patrick, M.D., noted: “All in all we hope the study garners the attention of state and federal policy makers to highlight that the prescription opioid epidemic is having a tangible impact on both mothers and infants.”
If you or someone you care for is pregnant and dealing with an addiction to an opioid prescription, it is important to enlist the help of a professional treatment team to ensure the best possible outcome for both mother and baby. Intervening early in the pregnancy can improve prognoses for both and decrease the risk of neonatal abstinence syndrome.