New Approach to Treating Addicted Newborns

Doctors are urging a shift in care for the youngest victims of the opioid crisis — newborns. Health authorities across the country have reported a rise in the number of babies born after being exposed to opioids in the womb. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, about 1,850 infants were born exposed to addictive drugs in 2016-2017, a 27 per cent jump from similar births reported in 2012-2013. In these cases, doctors have traditionally moved the babies to neonatal intensive care units and sent their mothers home, said Dr. Thierry Lacaze, a pediatrics professor and a member of the Alberta Children's Hospital research institute.

In a report released Thursday, the Canadian Paediatric Society said keeping mom and baby together is better for the child's health. "Supporting the mother in breastfeeding her baby will actually reduce the need for morphine, reduce the need for NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), reduce the length of stay," said Lacaze, co-author of the new recommendations for care. Babies exposed to opioids in the womb are often born addicted and need to be weaned from the dependence after birth. Some withdrawal symptoms, such as trembling, seizures and stuffy nose, appear in the first few days of life. Other effects, including irritability, sleep disorders and feeding problems, can last up to six months.

Instead of the traditional method of weaning babies with morphine, doctors now recommend that mother’s breastfeed the child as part of the weaning process, because the milk contains opioids. Once babies are discharged from hospital, he said a team of doctors must ensure the infants sleep and eat well, gain weight and adapt to their environment. "You have a single team working with the family from before birth to back home," he said.

Dr. Esther Tailfeathers, a family physician with the Blood Tribe, said her community — like others across the country — has seen rising numbers of infants affected by opioids. The long-term effects for these children are not fully known, but Tailfeathers said they likely have a higher risk of becoming addicted later in life. "We think our crisis is bad now, but what's it going to be like in 15, 16 years from now when these kids age?"

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  • So heartbreaking to do that to an innocent baby. I saw a clip on Dr Phil where he shows pregnant women who are using during pregnancy what happens to a baby when it is born addicted. I once met a lady who was using heroin, smoking and was a working girl & she was 7 months pregnant. It made me physically ill and I had to do all I could to stop myself from crying.

    That article is written referencing the children’s hospital in my city.
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