What is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome?

Jillian Berndtson

| 2 min read

baby sleeping and holidng adult hand
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) occurs when newborn babies experience withdrawal symptoms after being exposed to drugs or alcohol in the womb, leading to multiple health problems. In the wake of the opioid epidemic, cases of NAS are rising.
When a mother takes drugs or consumes alcohol while pregnant, those substances are passed into the bloodstream of the fetus as well, which may cause the baby to be drug-dependent or alcohol-dependent even before it is born. The symptoms are usually experienced for five days after birth.
When the baby’s supply is cut off at birth, its body experiences a group of problems indicating it is suffering from withdrawal. The newborn’s central nervous system becomes over-excited, displaying the symptoms of withdrawal. Certain drugs illicit specific symptoms. Some symptoms include: tremors, seizures, dehydration, fever and sleep problems. The combination of these symptoms and the discomfort of each leads to irritable babies.
Babies experiencing NAS are often difficult to comfort. Doctors recommend staying in a dark, quiet room and swaddling to soothe them. This will create a calm and relaxing environment to calm the babies. Doctors will often recommend a high-calorie diet as well to help the babies grow. In extreme cases, doctors may prescribe other drugs to control the baby’s withdrawal symptoms. Once the symptoms have subsided, they will gradually decrease the dosage until the medicine is no longer needed.
NAS can occur in up to 94 percent of babies whose mothers took opioids while pregnant. There are many ways you can help, including:
  • Donating hats and blankets to hospitals to help comfort newborn babies
  • Making cards, paintings or crafts for families in the hospitals
  • Participating in a “volunteer snuggler” program
Hospitals are always looking for volunteers and donations. Contact your local hospitals for the best ways to help.
Do you volunteer at your local hospital? Tell us what you do and why you enjoy it in the comments.
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