According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, a baby is born suffering from an opioid withdrawal every 15 minutes and the number is increasing drastically every year. These babies born addicted to drugs are a direct result of the mother taking drugs while they are still in the womb, as the drugs are transferred to the baby via the placenta. The babies develop a dependency during that time that continues through birth and can cause severe withdrawals and lifelong complications. If a mother is using drugs while breastfeeding, it can affect the child as well. These babies are the youngest victims of drug addiction in the country.
Cigarettes, cocaine, methamphetamine, opioids, marijuana, and alcohol are the most common substances that cause birth complications and chronic health issues. Drug-addicted babies are also at high risk of contracting infections and other dangerous birth complications. In extreme cases, drug use during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage and stillborns.
One of the most common conditions associated with drug-addicted babies, aside from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, is NAS, or Neo-Natal Abstinence Syndrome. NAS is a group of symptoms that an infant experiences after birth when they are suffering from withdrawals after being repeatedly exposed to drugs during the pregnancy. Although the most common drugs to result in an NAS baby are opioids such as heroin, antidepressants and sleeping pills can have the same result. Even prescription opioids and painkillers, like Vicodin and Percocet, can also harm your baby. An NAS baby will need to spend more time in the hospital than a healthy child and will experience a lot of pain.
There are a few treatment options for an NAS baby including giving them an IV, high-calorie baby formula, or certain medications. Between 50% and 70% of NAS babies will require medically-assisted treatment. For these medically-assisted treatments, doctors will typically use drugs such as morphine and methadone to help ease the severity of the withdrawal symptoms of babies born addicted to drugs and slowly wean them off over time, so as not to shock their system. But, overall, doctors try to avoid medically-assisted treatments.
Baby Withdrawal Symptoms
The drugs that are in the baby’s system at the point of birth cause the child a great deal of pain and discomfort. In some instances, they can be so severe that the babies need to be admitted to the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, or the NICU, so that they can be closely monitored by doctors and nurses. An NAS baby will experience symptoms such as:
- Jaundice, when the baby’s skin and eyes appear yellow
- Poor feeding
- Low birthweight, which can also lead to bleeding in the brain
- Loss of appetite
- Breathing problems
The symptoms of withdrawals will vary based on which drugs were used during the pregnancy, to what extent, and at what stage in the pregnancy they were ingested. The withdrawals can begin anywhere from 24 hours to 10 days of the child’s birth, and, in some cases, will last up to six months. With extended hospital stay, some families can receive medical bills of more than $60,000.
Long-Term Effects To Babies Born Addicted To Drugs
Although many children can recover after being born addicted to drugs, many of them will experience lifelong physical and mental complications. Many drug babies are born underweight to be which can cause chronic health conditions throughout their lifetime. Considered to be less than 5 pounds and 8 ounces, these conditions include diabetes, developmental delays, cerebral palsy, deafness, and blindness. The developmental delays have been known to affect the baby’s brain, kidneys, heart, and intestines. These will also affect their ability to learn a language, their behaviors, and can even lead to more violent tendencies throughout that child’s lifetime.
Thankfully, it is still entirely possible to prevent these chronic health conditions from appearing in a child’s lifetime. By providing them with psychiatric care at a young age, ensuring they have a healthy and safe home life, and staying on top of managing their behaviors, they can still live a very normal, happy life.
What To Do
Even if you are using drugs while you’re pregnant and want to stop, you should consult your doctor first. Stopping drugs abruptly can be dangerous for both you and your child, and can even, in more severe cases, result in the death of the infant.
Of course, the most effective way to prevent baby withdrawal symptoms is to not use any form of drugs during or before pregnancy. But for people who are addicted to drugs, this is not as easy as it sounds. If you feel that you or a loved one is struggling with drug addiction, please reach out to Treatment Centers XL. You do not have to do this alone.