What Happens When a Baby is Born Addicted to Drugs?

Written by Will Long

Drug addiction during pregnancy is a serious public health problem that can have devastating consequences for both mother and child. When an expectant mother abuses drugs, it exposes the fetus to those same harmful substances, which can lead to the baby being born physically dependent on drugs. This condition, known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), causes the newborn to experience painful and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

The Effects of Maternal Drug Use on Fetal Development

The impact of maternal drug use on the developing fetus can be severe. Commonly abused drugs like opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine, and benzodiazepines readily cross the placenta, the vital organ that supplies oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby. This means these drugs accumulate in the baby’s body over the course of the pregnancy.

Prenatal drug exposure significantly increases the risk of a range of complications, including:

– Birth defects: Drugs can interfere with normal fetal development, leading to physical abnormalities like cleft palate, heart defects, and abnormal brain development.

– Premature birth: Drug use increases the likelihood of preterm labor and premature birth, which can result in underdeveloped lungs, bleeding in the brain, vision problems, and other complications.

– Low birth weight: Infants exposed to drugs in utero are more likely to be born at a low birth weight (less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces), which increases their risk for health problems.

– Stillbirth and SIDS: Maternal drug use is associated with higher rates of stillbirth (when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy) and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

– Developmental problems: Babies exposed to drugs are more likely to have issues with feeding, irritability, and developmental delays affecting their motor skills, behavior, and cognitive abilities.

Signs and Symptoms of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

When a baby is born addicted to drugs, they quickly begin exhibiting symptoms of withdrawal, usually within 72 hours of birth but sometimes as late as 2 weeks after delivery. The type and severity of symptoms depend on factors like what drug(s) were used, how recently and heavily they were used, and whether the baby was born full-term or premature.

Common signs and symptoms of NAS include:

– Excessive high-pitched crying or irritability
– Trouble sleeping and eating
– Hyperactive reflexes and tremors
– Tight muscle tone
– Sweating and fever
– Vomiting and diarrhea
– Rapid breathing and heart rate
– Skin irritation and diaper rash

Treating Newborns with NAS

Babies experiencing drug withdrawal require specialized around-the-clock care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Treatment focuses on easing the baby’s symptoms, which can include:

– Medications like morphine or methadone to help wean them off their drug dependency gradually and safely
– Higher calorie formula to help them gain weight
– Quiet, dimly lit rooms to reduce overstimulation
– Swaddling and gentle rocking to soothe irritability
– Intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea

Infants with NAS may need to stay in the hospital for weeks or even months. They are also at higher risk for needing treatment for problems with development, behavior and learning as they get older. Studies show that children diagnosed with NAS are more likely to need special education services and to have ADHD and other behavior problems.

Drug addiction during pregnancy is a serious public health problem that can have devastating consequences for both mother and the baby
Drug addiction during pregnancy is a serious public health problem that can have devastating consequences for both mother and the baby

Preventing NAS: Getting Help for Addiction During Pregnancy

The best way to prevent NAS is for pregnant women to avoid using drugs. However, expectant mothers who are struggling with addiction should not feel ashamed to reach out for help. In fact, seeking treatment is one of the most important steps you can take for your baby’s health. Stopping drug use abruptly during pregnancy can actually be dangerous for both mother and baby, potentially leading to miscarriage, preterm labor, or fetal distress. The safest approach is to seek professional treatment as soon as possible.

At JourneyPure At The River, our compassionate team of addiction specialists understands the unique challenges women face when it comes to substance abuse and pregnancy. We offer comprehensive, judgment-free care tailored to the needs of patients, including:

– Medically-supervised detox to help you safely stop using drugs
– Individual therapy to address the root causes of your addiction
– Group counseling to share support with other mothers in recovery
– Prenatal care and education to promote a healthy pregnancy
– Mental health treatment for co-occurring disorders like depression and anxiety
– Extensive aftercare planning to set you up for long-term success in sobriety

Our priority is ensuring the health and well-being of our patients.

Get Help Today

If you are struggling with drug addiction, know that you are not alone and that help is available. Don’t wait to reach out for support. Call JourneyPure At The River today at 615-410-9260 to learn more about our treatment programs. Let us give you and your baby the opportunity for a fresh, healthy start.