When a baby has been exposed to drugs in the womb there is a risk that the baby may become passively addicted to the drugs the mother is taking.
Any harmful substance taken during pregnancy runs the risk of posing danger to an unborn child. When a pregnant woman takes drugs or consumes alcohol, it crosses into the baby’s bloodstream via the placenta. In the absence if their own filtering system, the baby becomes subject to the effects of the drug.
Abusing addictive substances during pregnancy means a baby runs a greater risk of low birth weight, heart problems, breathing difficulties, feeding issues and a longer stay in the neonatal unit as your baby recovers. It may also lead to behavioural or learning difficulties as they grow older.
If a baby is born having been exposed to an addictive substance, it may suffer from withdrawal symptoms. These can range from mild to life threatening and will be monitored closely by the neo natal tem. This is why it is very important to be honest with your midwife/doctor if you have been taking drugs or drinking during pregnancy. A health professional will have heard it all before and is not there to judge or criticise. They are there to ensure you and your baby has the safest pregnancy and birth possible.
After birth, the baby will be closely monitored. The symptoms of withdrawal are wide and nonspecific. Hospitals most commonly use a standard abstinence-syndrome scoring system. The supervising care team will monitor the infant’s weight, temperature and sleep patterns. Initial withdrawal symptoms will be treated by swaddling, rocking, holding, and intravenous fluids. The infant will be exposed to minimum stimulation to avoid any distress. The child may also receive specially enriched formula milk to help with healthy weight gain. If more severe symptoms are present or if withdrawal symptoms increase then medication may be used. For opiate withdrawal Phenobarbital may be used. Paregoric, which is a camphorated tincture of Opium, may be used to help wean the baby off of drugs. Phenobarbital is also used for alcohol withdrawal, as is Diazepam. For symptoms of cocaine withdrawal, especially Hyper-excitability, Diazepam is often used too.
The baby will not be allowed to go home until they have safely withdrawn from the substances they were born with in their system. A full assessment should be taken of the mother’s home environment. Babies born to parents with addiction to drugs or alcohol are generally regarded to be at higher risk of neglect or abuse. It can be difficult for a mother to bond with a baby in this situation, the baby can be excessively “niggly” and a mother dealing with addiction and the emotional aspects of post-partum conditions may find it difficult to parent. Help is available and your health visitor can be great support and help involve appropriate agencies. There is help available both on the NHS and privately. If you are worried about addiction in pregnancy then you seek help straight away.