Neonatal abstinence syndrome, known as NAS, is the result of a baby being exposed to drugs while carried in the womb. NAS causes drug withdrawal in babies immediately after they are born. Opioid drugs, such as morphine, oxycodone, heroin, hydrocodone and codeine can cause NAS, as well as certain antidepressants and benzodiazepines.
Sometimes, a pregnant woman may be prescribed certain opioids to treat pain. Benzodiazepines are used as sleeping pills and antidepressants could be prescribed to help treat depression. In other instances, a woman may suffer from drug addiction. Regardless of the cause behind the use of opiates, antidepressants or benzodiazepines, there are ways to combat NAS and seek help to increase your child’s chances of avoiding this dangerous, sometimes even deadly, syndrome.
One major way to assist in the prevention of NAS is for a pregnant woman to report directly to her healthcare professional if she is prescribed any of the above medications, or has a problem with drug use. For women who are addicted to or prescribed opioids, research shows that receiving medication-assisted treatment allows for NAS to be more easily treated in babies. It is also always a good idea to share with your obstetrician what medications you are taking, and make sure they know that you are pregnant. Consult directly with your doctor, because help is out there and a doctor can aid in limiting the medical risks to your baby.
When a child is first born with NAS, there are many different symptoms. The symptoms include fast breathing, fever, sweating or blotchy skin, vomiting, diarrhea, sneezing, stuffy nose, poor feeding, slow weight gain, fussiness, excessive crying or a high-pitched cry, tremors, seizures, tight muscle tone and overactive reflexes. Most of these symptoms present within three days of being born but at times it can take one week or more. In the worst-case scenarios, a baby can die from drug withdrawal.
Children born positive with NAS often have a low birthweight and difficulties breathing. NAS can contribute to the development of birth defects, which affect the function or shape of different parts of the body as well. These can lead to other medical problems in infancy or further down the road.
The observable long-term effects of NAS are poor school performance, such as subpar testing, that appears to increase as a child ages, according to a study published in the reputable Pediatrics journal. The study revealed that around the third grade, children with NAS begin to perform worse than their peers and by high school; they are greatly below the majority of their classmates, often not achieving mediocre testing results.
The chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends early intervention for children who suffer from NAS. These methods of intervention include maternal support, home visits and early education programs. This is a growing problem in the United States as well as internationally, and NAS does not only affect children and teens academically but poses risks factors for them in their personal, adult lives as well. Failure in school is often linked to adult depression and drug use as well as criminal behavior.
There are ways that doctors can test a baby for NAS. One way of doing this is by using a neonatal abstinence scoring system, which allots points to each symptom depending on severity. A doctor then decides what sort of treatment is necessary. A baby’s urine can be tested to detect for NAS also. Lastly, a doctor can test a baby’s first bowel movement, known as meconium.
After determining if a baby has NAS, there are different treatment options available. One is administering fluids intravenously into the child, to help fight dehydration and combat many of the symptoms that come with it. Most children are given higher-calorie baby formulas because they often have a difficult time growing and putting on weight because of issues with feeding. And, when necessary, a doctor may prescribe medications to combat very serious symptoms of drug withdrawal. Reports show that when a baby is treated for NAS, more often than not the symptoms will resolve anywhere between 5 and 30 days. At times, the symptoms of NAS last up to six months in an affected baby.
If you are a pregnant woman who has been prescribed medications such as opioid painkillers, benzodiazepines and/or antidepressants, or struggle with drug use, please contact a doctor who can help you. Treatment options are available and help is out there for both you and your baby.
Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Advocates for Victims of Opioid Addiction
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