Babies with Withdrawal Symptoms

Doctors are calling it "Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)"

By Pete Sweeney SYRACUSE, NY (NCC News) As soon as a drug-exposed baby is born, it is possible that the child can have what doctors are now calling Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS.

Mothers that have used narcotics from as long as the entire pregnancy to as short as a couple weeks create a chance of giving the baby NAS, which, in reality, is a kinder name for withdrawal symptoms.

“Withdrawal in a baby is a screaming, high-shrilled, shrieking, tense child with diarrhea, vomiting [and] shaking,” describes Dr. Michelle Bode, a neonatologist at Crouse Hospital. “It’s hard to watch.”

Legal addiction

It may be easy to assume that this problem is as a result of an illegal use of narcotics, but in many, many cases, it is not. NAS can result from abuse of legal narcotics. Example:

A pregnant woman hurts her neck and is prescribed painkillers by a doctor. The woman finds the painkillers to make both physical and emotional pain go away and becomes addicted to the pills. Eventually, after taking pain killers for weeks, her baby is born with NAS.

As can be seen from the example, it’s important to realize that this problem comes from mothers of all walks of life.

Alarming rate in Onondaga County

In the United States, newborn drug-related discharge rate is on average about 3.3 babies of every 1,000. In the state, that number rises to 6.9 babies. But in Onondaga County, the rate jumps to 26 of every 1000 newborns.

Monika Taylor, the director of Behavioral Health at Crouse believes that there’s a valid reason for this.

“The statistic to some degree is artificial. What the statistic doesn’t account for is it’s based on the county the child is born in,” she said.

This is relevant because of the neonatal center found in Syracuse. Because of the center, women with addiction problems from nearby counties ship in to get help before they birthed their babies. When the baby with NAS is born here, that baby counts toward the statistic even though it will not live in the county.

Group effort

Fighting the problem of addicted mothers-to-be and babies with NAS is a group effort. For NAS to go away, those with issues need to know it’s OK to come forward and ask for help.

Syracuse boasts five action groups that are doing their part to help change the lives of pregnant women for the better.

  1. District Attorney’s Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force
  2. NAS Elimination Team
  3. FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) Center for Excellence
  4. Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods (SaHN)
  5. Syracuse Healthy Start

The good news

The silver lining is that women using narcotics have a chance to reverse the damage in their babies caused by drug use. If the women were to have used alcohol, negative changes made to an unborn baby could be irreversible.

The sooner troubled pregnant women reach out for help, the better off they will be.