The number of babies born to opioid-addicted mothers in the country is on the rise. With no sign of the epidemic dwindling, this is likely a problem mothers and their doctors are going to be dealing with for several years. Today, hospitals around the country are trying to determine how to best care for a baby born to an opioid-addicted mother. There are several options for care and the method that works for a family will depend on the specific circumstances.
Intensive Care and Pharmaceuticals for NAS
Traditionally, babies born to opioid-addicted mothers were taken to neonatal intensive care units shortly after being born. There they would be given drugs, often opioids, to help reduce their withdrawal symptoms. Over time, typically a period of days or weeks, the baby would be weaned off the drug slowly.
The hope was that this form of treatment would provide the right amount of the drug to ease the baby’s withdrawal. However, doctors also had to be careful not to give too much of the drug, as that could simply continue to keep the baby addicted.
A New Approach to Caring for Babies Born to Opioid-Addicted Mothers
As hospitals continue to see more babies born to opioid-addicted mothers, and therefore have an addiction of their own, they are starting to look at new approaches to caring for these newborns. One of the biggest keys, many doctors say, is to remove them from the intensive care units and get mom involved with the care of her baby.
Babies suffering from an addiction passed on to them by their mothers most often need quiet, caring environments. This is not typically the environment in an intensive care unit that has monitors constantly beeping, people rushing in and out, and the cries of other babies.
Now, in place of the intensive care units, more babies are staying with their mother whenever possible. This allows them to be in a quiet place, typically the mother’s hospital room, and does not interfere with the bonding that should occur soon after birth.
Examples of These Programs
Yale Children’s Hospital is just one of the many in the country that is trying this new approach to caring for babies born to opioid-addicted mothers. Their program is called the Eat, Sleep, Console program, and the benefits it brings are evident. Prior to starting the program, the average stay for a baby addicted to opioids was 23 days. Today, babies in the program can be taken home after an average of six days.
Other hospitals around the country are now starting to understand the importance of human touch when caring for babies born to opioid-addicted mothers. Many even have volunteers come in to simply hug, cuddle, and soothe babies born to addicted mothers.
Allowing the baby to be with its mother and simply trying to comfort and feed babies rather than give them more opioids, is a solution that seems to be working. And in many cases, it is working even better than pharmaceuticals.