Withdrawal from The First Breath: What Happens to Children Born Into Addiction

Infant Withdrawal: An Epidemic

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is a term for a group of problems a newborn experiences when withdrawing from exposure to narcotics.

What Causes Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)?

Drugs taken by a pregnant mother, pass from her bloodstream directly to the fetus. Substances that cause drug dependence in the mother also cause the developing fetus to become addicted. At birth, the baby’s dependence on the substance continues. Since the drug is no longer available, the baby goes into withdrawal. For an infant, withdrawal symptoms are significant and can last up to six months.  

  • Hyperactive reflexes
  • Seizures
  • Sleep problems
  • High-pitched and excessive crying
  • Tight muscle tone
  • Tremors
  • Reduced ability to feed
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Fever or unstable temperature

These tiny victims of the opioid crisis didn’t choose to be addicted, but begin their introduction into this world with suffering. Shakes, painful muscle aches, relentless cries and an inability to be comforted, all because the mothers were addicted to opiates (or other drugs) during their pregnancies.

This isn’t new, but it has gotten worse. The number of drug-addicted babies born today is four times greater than 15 years ago.
Why? Some believe the pharmaceutical companies are to blame. In Ohio, for example, there were 793 million doses of opioids prescribed in 2012. 20 percent of the state’s population was prescribed an opioid in 2016. And Ohio leads the nation in overdose deaths.

Ohio’s Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit in June of this year against a handful of pharmaceutical companies,  accusing them of promoting marketing campaigns that “trivialize the risks of opioids.” Illinois, Mississippi, four counties in New York, and Santa Clara and Orange Counties in California also filed lawsuits. In May of 2017, the Cherokee Nation also filed a suit against distributors and pharmacies in tribal court over the opioid epidemic.

Palm Beach County’s Vice Mayor, Melissa McKinlay, had this to say on her Facebook Page regarding the number of babies born addicted,

“This is so heartbreaking. And it was preventable. I plan on asking our County Attorney to move forward with filing suit, just as many other counties hard hit by this epidemic. God bless these sweet babies.”

When pregnant women are taking opioids, there are two lives at stake. While lawsuits may eventually help reduce the amount of prescription opioids in the country, where does that leave the mothers who are already addicted and pregnant; those who need help right now? Where does that leave the women who turn to other substances when opioids are no longer accessible? These women are not “bad people” or “immoral.” They are individuals suffering from substance use disorder and are in need of treatment services.

Labor of Love: Helping Pregnant Mothers and Unborn Babies

As difficult as it may be for some to understand, pregnant women who are already addicted to opiates often can not stop using on their own. As much as they love their unborn child and don’t want them to go through withdrawal, they are addicted to the substance. They need help breaking free. Seeking treatment can lead to a series of dead ends. Some facilities reject pregnant women who are past their first trimester. They don’t know how to safely detox the women and don’t have a special program in place to see them through the potential complications of pregnancy while also providing addiction treatment services.

The Labor of Love Foundation in Deerfield Beach, Florida is giving women the full range of services pregnant women struggling with addiction need, and so much more. With years of experience in the recovery field and a certified doula, founder Elle Rebuck has designed a program that works.

From Detox to New Motherhood

First, the women are safely (and completely) detoxed.
They are provided with housing, transportation to prenatal visits, and full addiction recovery treatment from Gracious Care Recovery Solutions. This includes a full range of therapeutic services as well as a strong, spiritual foundation. Infant care education (including infant CPR), a breastfeeding workshop, a birth plan and full doula services to walk the new mom through the delivery of a healthy, happy baby. After the birth, each new mom can continue on at Gracious Care for up to six months.

“There is no room for judgement when we’re talking about pregnant women who are battling addiction. They need help. They are in a situation and the clock is ticking. Their unborn baby is growing. Our mission is to get these women detoxed and into care as quickly as possible.”

Why Aren’t Programs Like Labor of Love Everywhere?

Finding a program like Labor of Love can be difficult. Pregnant women struggling with addiction are a grossly underserved people group. Addiction treatment services for pregnant women is a niche, and those who serve these women generally feel called to do so.
Danielle became a certified doula while working with Gracious Care Recovery Services as their Director of Marketing. She had no idea her love for working with pregnant women and supporting them during birth would turn into the Labor of Love Foundation. With each new graduate and every new life born “addiction free” she knows this is the path she is called to.

If you or someone you love is pregnant and struggling with addiction, help is waiting.