Long-Term Effects of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is the exposure of drugs to a baby while the fetus is growing in the womb. The drugs taken by a pregnant mother can cause withdrawal symptoms to occur within the baby during pregnancy and after birth. The baby is also at risk of sustaining severe injuries and death during pregnancy and immediately after birth, due to its reaction to the drugs.
Additionally, there are long-term effects of babies born addicted to opiates and other drugs — like having NAS — as the child who is exposed to the drugs can experience physical and mental challenges later on in their life. That’s why a mother taking drugs, including opioids or prescription medications, is strongly discouraged from continuing to take them. Staying healthy during pregnancy and avoiding harmful substances can help a child develop healthily in the womb and avoid developmental risks and physical challenges in the first few days and weeks after birth, and continue that healthy trend years into the child’s life.
As drug misuse has increased in the United States over the last few years, pregnant women are no exception to this trend. The increased amount of exposure unborn children have to drugs has resulted in a higher percentage of NAS occurring in the country. In 2012, more than 380,000 unborn children were exposed to illicit drugs and nearly 6 percent of pregnant women used at least one illicit drug during their pregnancy. Nearly 1 million pregnant women smoke cigarettes, another potential risk for long-term problems with a child during and after pregnancy, and around 10 percent of women consumed alcohol during a pregnancy between 2013 and 2014. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports than in the U.S. each year, one out of every 33 babies are born with birth defects. These issues could arise from exposure to drugs while in the womb.
The lives of a baby who is born addicted to drugs and one who was never exposed to illicit substances in the womb can be similar in many ways, especially if NAS is identified early enough. There are significant risks with prenatal exposure to drugs such as meth, heroin, cocaine or prescription medications like Xanax or oxycontin.
Problems that children exposed to drugs in utero might experience are different for each child. Many NAS symptoms occur within days after birth, although the website March of Dimes states that some symptoms can occur as late as six months after birth. A baby with NAS might have jaundice, which can be identified by yellow eyes or skin, or a low birthweight.
Some of the other common early signs of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome that a child might experience include:
- Body shakes
- Overactive reflexes
- Tight muscle tone
- Fussiness or excessive crying
- Poor feeding or a slow weight gain
- Breathing problems
- Fever, sweating or blotchy skin
- Trouble sleeping and lots of yawning
- Diarrhea or throwing up
- Stuffy nose or sneezing
As the child gets older, though, there are other potential challenges they might face. The risk factors for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is not limited just to physical struggles. Some of the challenges a family might face include issues involving a child’s educational development and other mental aspects.
- A NAS scoring system, which gives points for each symptoms depending on how severe it is for the child.
- A Meconium test, which is done with the baby’s first bowel movement.
- Urine testing
If NAS is detected in a baby, there are specific treatment options available to help prevent long-lasting effects. These include:
- Taking medicines to mitigate or block withdrawal symptoms, which will dissipate over time and require a smaller dosage of medicine as a way of tapering the child off the substance.
- Receiving fluids through a needle into a vein to prevent dehydration, which can occur since babies who have NAS often have diarrhea or vomit more often than normal and can lack enough internal liquids.
- Drinking higher-calorie baby formula to help with feeding and proper growth in the initial days following birth.
If a woman is addicted to drugs such as opiates or is currently taking a prescription medication but is attempting to get pregnant, or already is pregnant, help is available. The child can develop NAS from exposure to these drugs through the mother’s misuse, but rehabilitation and recovery from any type of drug addiction is possible. Even if it’s a prescription painkiller such as oxycodone, itcan have a damaging effect on a fetus’ growth and development during pregnancy.
The Recovery Village can help women taper off from regular drug misuse, whether they are illegal substances or prescription medication, to help their pregnancy stay as safe as possible. Call today for information on which steps to take to begin the drug rehabilitation process and remove drug dependency and addiction from your life.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.