The neonatal unit at the neighborhood hospital faces daily challenging situations, but one of those challenges, though entirely avoidable, is actually occurring more frequently. That challenge is how best to treat an infant for drug withdrawal because he/she was exposed to drugs while in utero.
In some areas of the country one fourth of the babies in the neonatal unit are experiencing withdrawal symptoms. The problem has escalated along with drug addiction in the adult population, meaning more and more babies are born having been exposed to prescription drugs, hard drugs and marijuana.
The problem has become serious enough to warrant government attention and has led the American Academy of Pediatrics to update its guidelines for treating infant drug withdrawal.
Information drawn from the recent report on the subject recently appeared in an online article explaining what infant withdrawal looks like and what can be done.
Babies experiencing withdrawal are more irritable, fail to suck well, may undergo tremors or seizures, and may have bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. Pre-birth exposure to drugs also leaves these little ones vulnerable to problems which they will not outgrow such as birth defects, unhealthy growth patterns or behavioral disorders.
Other long-term impacts of prenatal drug exposure are still unknown.
What NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) units can do for these hurting babies is create an environment that is as comforting as possible. That includes dimming lights and keeping sounds to a muffled minimum. Plenty of loving touch and rocking is encouraged as is keeping babies swaddled for warmth and a sense of security.
Drug-exposed babies can be expected to spend more time in the hospital immediately and will require monitoring after they leave.
The dilemma comes in the desire to medicate infants so they won’t experience the pain of withdrawal balanced against the risks for later narcotic addictions as a result. The problem of drug-addicted newborns will continue to mirror the adult problem of adults. Ideally, when the plight of the vulnerable is more widely known, the motivation to end addiction will also spread.