Over the past 15 years, the number of babies born addicted to opiates has doubled. In some Pennsylvania counties, as many as 5 percent of all newborns are addicted to opiates.
Babies are born addicted to opiates when women actively use during their pregnancies. The drugs are passed from mother to baby through the placenta, which connects the baby to its mother while it’s in the womb. These babies are then susceptible to withdrawal, which is known medically as neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS.
Symptoms and Effects of NAS
At least 50 percent of babies born to mothers who use opiates while they were pregnant will experience NAS.2 Symptoms of NAS include, but aren’t limited to:
NAS should be treated by medical professionals, and opiate-addicted mothers should be honest with their baby’s doctor about their use. Typically, babies with NAS will be given drugs that combat the effects of opiate withdrawal, like methadone or Suboxone, until the symptoms subside.
Unfortunately, the effects of NAS can persist long after the withdrawal symptoms fade away. One study found that children with NAS performed progressively worse on school testing compared to their peers as they got older, indicating a need for strong support at home and in school in order to succeed academically.3
Other Risks of NAS
NAS isn’t the only potential consequence of drug use during pregnancy. Women addicted to opiates are less likely to seek prenatal care, which exposes both the baby and the mother to risks associated with an unhealthy or unmonitored pregnancy.
Opiate use during pregnancy can lead to:
Low birth weight
Post-birth behavioral issues
Mental and physical development delays
How to Prevent Children from Being Born Addicted
Pursuing addiction treatment prior to pregnancy is the best way to ensure that a baby won’t be effected by its mother’s drug use, although past use can still impact future pregnancies. Going through opiate withdrawal during pregnancy is a complicated process that’s best closely monitored by a medical professional.
Women who are pregnant and addicted to opiates should seek addiction treatment. Recovering from addiction will provide the best long-term outcomes possible, in terms of the health of both the mother and the child. Always work with a doctor or other medical or addiction professional when beginning treatment to ensure that the recovery path you follow is the right one for you.