neonatal abstinence syndrome

If you are or know someone who struggles with addiction, then you know that substance abuse has far-reaching effects. And this is never more apparent than in cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), where an infant is born addicted to opioids it was exposed to in the womb. But a new treatment plan being enacted across Cincinnati could offer new hope for babies and parents dealing with this issue.

Today, we’re going to delve into this treatment modality and look at what it means for community recovery options for addiction. But first, let’s start by taking a closer look at neonatal abstinence syndrome and how it happens.

What Is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome?

What Is NAS symptoms

When a pregnant person takes addictive opioids, the fetus can be exposed to some of those substances. This happens when opioids travel through the placenta and into fetus. And if these substances are taken regularly, then the fetus can develop chemical dependency before they’re born.

Thus, if the pregnant parent takes opioids within a week of birth, then there is a high chance that the baby will be born with NAS. As the drugs work their way out of the newborn’s system, they may start to experience harmful drug withdrawal symptoms.

While it can be easy to view pregnant individuals who use opioids as uncaring, the reality is often more complicated than that. Oftentimes, individuals try to quit opioids upon learning that they’re pregnant, but are unable to do so without help. This can lead to taking low-dose opioids like methadone that do not create any type of high, and allow the pregnant parent to make further positive changes in their life. But sadly, even responsibly taken prescription opioids can still cause NAS in newborns.

Unfortunately, this situation is not at all uncommon. In fact, in the United States alone, a case of neonatal abstinence syndrome is diagnosed every 19 minutes. And depending on a variety of factors, newborns can deal with some distressing symptoms.

NAS Symptoms and Treatment

The symptoms of NAS vary depending on factors like how long the fetus was exposed to opioids, genetic factors relating to how opioids are processed, and whether the baby is born premature. But in general, NAS symptoms include:


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  • Fever
  • Fast breathing
  • Sleep problems
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures

Historically, severe cases of NAS have been treated with opioids medications to wean them off of opioids without withdrawal symptoms. And while this process usually works, babies born with NAS often need increased care for weeks or months after being born.

But hospitals in the Cincinnati area are trying a new approach to treating NAS cases. And this technique could provide relief to new parents and babies without requiring an opioid weaning period.

The Eat, Sleep, Console Approach

In 2017, researchers from Yale suggested that the widely accepted Finnegan Neonatal Abstinence Scoring System was recommending opioids for babies who did not need them. The Finnegan system, first created in 1974, has newborns separated from parents and evaluated for opioid withdrawal symptoms. However, the 2017 research found that this system led to newborns showing behavior that aligned with withdrawal symptoms, regardless of whether or not they were actually experiencing extreme opioid withdrawals.

As an alternative method, they suggested the Eat, Sleep, Console system. The researchers asserted that if the infant could meet three conditions while in a calm environment with the birthing parent, then they would not require morphine or any other opioid. These three conditions were:

  • The infant can eat more than one ounce of formula or breastmilk in one feeding
  • The infant can sleep undisturbed for an hour or more
  • The infant  can be consoled when crying within 10 minutes

By applying these standards, the researchers found that drastically fewer newborns actually needed opioid medications. This greatly lowered the cost of care for new parents, and it showed no negative side effects in babies who followed the Eat, Sleep, Console criteria.

How Cincinnati Hospitals Are Helping

opioid withdrawals

Many hospitals in the Cincinnati area are now following the Eat, Sleep, Console system as part of a larger, ongoing study. The hope is that by providing objective, simple criteria, treatment plans for newborns with NAS can be simplified and not disrupt crucial early bonding time.

Additionally, new parents often feel more in-control of the process when using Eat, Sleep, Console, since they can easily understand the criteria and feel like active participants in the care process.

As proud community partners in fighting the Ohio opioid epidemic, we’re always glad to see community health organizations finding new, more holistic ways to help families impacted by opioid addiction. And for our part, we always work to find solutions that are centered in restorative practices that help people achieve complete recovery from addiction.

That’s the kind of care that our dual diagnosis program provides. In this inpatient treatment option, individuals can recover from both addiction and co-occurring mental health issues. For example, someone who starts drinking or using drugs due to depression can get comprehensive care that treats both issues simultaneously. In this way, we create an environment of comprehensive healing that serves Brown county and the surrounding areas.

If you’re struggling with opioid addiction or another substance use disorder, then right now is the best time to look for help. Whether you’re concerned about neonatal abstinence syndrome or not, there is always a good reason to quit. If you’re ready to take the next step, call our friendly admissions specialists at 937-483-4933 or submit your questions online. If you’re looking for opioid rehabilitation services in the Georgetown area, then we’re ready to help!

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