The birth of a new baby is one of the most miraculous experiences in the world. Every parent hopes to take home a healthy and happy baby, and start a new life as a family. However, with the current opioid crisis in Canada, the story is quite different for newborns that are born with an opioid dependence.
“Opioid use and dependence during pregnancy continues to be a significant public health problem. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicate that the rate of heroin use by pregnant women has increased somewhat over time and there has been a 33% increase in non-medical use of analgesics in this population in the past decade.”1
During pregnancy, there is a harsh cycle for the fetus, especially when the mother-to-be is still taking opioids, and in turn, the withdrawal period is distressing.
“The cycle of opioid use and withdrawal is particularly devastating for the developing fetus. The repetitive pattern of use and withdrawal leads to fetal hypoxia and uteroplacental insufficiency with resultant increased risk of prematurity, fetal demise and low birth weight. Comprehensive prenatal care is essential for these patients.”2
According to The Atlantic, entering the world for the first time as a newborn on opioids doesn’t get rid of the drug instantly. The baby still is born with opioids in their system like an addict.
“It can be a painful way to enter the world, abruptly cut off from the drug in the mother’s system. The baby is usually born with some level of circulating opioids. As drug levels decline in the first 72 hours, various withdrawal symptoms may appear—such as trembling, vomiting, diarrhea, or seizures,”3
And the symptoms continue from there, the infant isn’t out of the clear and needs further care, intensive care, beyond what a baby born without withdrawal may need.
“Infants born to opioid-dependent women are often admitted to intensive care units for neonatal abstinence syndrome monitoring. Most infants will require pharmacotherapy and a prolonged hospital stay. Kingston General Hospital in Ontario implemented a rooming-in program for these mother-infant dyads to improve neonatal outcomes.”4
The solution, although may sound intense, involves giving the infant opioids postpartum, including morphine or methadone. It is through this treatment that the infants have a fair chance or getting better.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics and others recommend an opioid for the babies because you’re giving them back what they’re withdrawing from,” said Jonathan Davis, a neonatologist and chief of newborn medicine at Tufts’ Medical Center. “Morphine and methadone are the two most common.”4
To continue, while not all doctor’s take this approach, the science behind the treatment to getting the baby out of withdrawal is there: “Despite many remaining unknowns, doctors have consistently found that treatment with morphine or methadone enables most babies to get through withdrawal in about six to eight weeks.5
In the end, it is a healthy baby and mother that will allow for the greatest chance for a healthy upbringing, and through different methods under doctor care, will bring the mother and child through the hurdle of addiction, no matter how long it takes.
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