Understanding Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome as the State Moves Toward Harm Reduction, Hires Midwives

As part of the “Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery” initiative, The State is hiring midwives who are specialized in addiction to help with babies born with addiction. Mothers who use drugs and alcohol during their term of pregnancy always run the risk of creating cognitive and developmental deficiencies in their unborn child. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, for example, can take many forms like the development of mental illness or physical deformities. The use of heavy drugs during pregnancy can have a more cruel effect on unborn children- giving them an addiction they didn’t ask for. Receiving everything the mother puts into her bloodstream, an unborn child can be exposed to methamphetamines, heroin, synthetic drugs, and alcohol before their entrance to the world. In the case of mothers who use and abuse drugs regularly, their child regularly receives those toxic substances. Once the child is born or enters the labor process in which the mother is likely hospitalized and without her drugs of choice, the child begins to detox. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is the child being born without the drugs they have become dependent on in the womb and experiencing symptoms of withdrawal.

Videos and images of newborn children withdrawing from drug addiction are heart breaking. Whereas their adult counterparts withdrawing from heroin, for example, experience a “kicking” symptom in the legs, small babies will vibrate and shudder uncontrollably. Screaming at high pitched intervals of distress, not sleeping, and difficult to be soothed, these children require special care by trained addiction specialists. Doctors regularly administer liquid morphine to help reduce the pain and agony of their struggles in detoxification. Tight swaddling, warm blankets, and soft, glowing lights, are some of the measures nursery wards for neonatal born babies take. Midwives and nurses trained in addiction understand that these small babies need an extra amount of attention, love, and care.

Babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome might have a higher likelihood of developing addictions of their own later in life. Currently, there are no longitudinal studies which have followed infants born addicted to drugs like heroin to see if they become addicted as adults.


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