Causes & Symptoms Of Drug Addicted Babies: What are the Treatment Options

Every woman during her pregnancy must know that whatever she eats and drinks passes on to the fetus inside her womb through the placenta. Use of illicit drugs or alcohol during pregnancy can produce numerous health issues for the baby as well as the mother. The newborn child becomes addicted to illicit drug if the mother during her pregnancy is addicted or depends on substance abuse. After birth when the drug is no longer available to the baby, the central nervous system of the infant becomes irritated and over stimulated giving rise to host of withdrawal symptoms.

Babies who are exposed to illegal drugs such as cocaine, barbiturates, amphetamines, etc in the womb often have to spend more time in the hospital following birth because of several health problems. This problems can sometime last longer throughout their life. Hence knowledge of signs and symptoms of drug addiction in newborn baby is useful for the addicted mother so that she can seek immediate medical help for the child. These signs and symptoms are grouped together and termed as neonatal abstinence syndrome.

Causes Babies Could Get Addicted to Drugs

Use of illegal drugs and substance abuse has negative impact on the health of pregnant woman as well as the fetus.

The fetus inside the womb is exposed to almost every drug the mother consumes. These drugs can pass through the mother’s blood to the child through placenta and the umbilical cord. Hence addiction of illegal drug in pregnant woman can cause addiction in the fetus too. This may continue in the infant after birth. But since the drug is now not available after birth, the central nervous system of the body becomes overactive producing several withdrawal symptoms. These constellations of symptom are termed together as neonatal abstinence syndrome. Few illicit drugs are more likely to produce drug addiction in infants than others. For example the opiate group drugs can cause NAS in more than 50 percent of babies exposed to it. Barbiturate group of drugs can also produce the withdrawal. In case of cocaine it is more of its toxic effect that produces the symptoms.

Symptoms of Drug Addicted Babies

A pregnant woman who is addicted to drugs is likely to cause harm to the infant besides herself. Often these women do not take antenatal and prenatal care thus increasing the risk of several health issues in the child. Following are important symptoms that may be noticed in the infant after birth who is exposed to drug addiction.

  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Excessively hyperactive
  • Delay in developmental growth
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tremors
  • Gets startled easily
  • Seizures
  • Birth defects such as small size head, defect in heart
  • Muscular spasm
  • Joint stiffness
  • Low IQ and disability in learning
  • High pitched crying
  • Increased irritability
  • Poor feeding
  • Poor sucking reflex
  • Dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Fever
  • Increased risk of sudden death syndrome

Diagnosis and Treatment

There are many conditions that may produce symptoms that may be similar to drug addicted babies. The most important element for diagnosis is history of mother addicted to substance abuse during her pregnancy. There is a scoring system that is used by pediatrician for diagnosis of withdrawal symptoms in the child. The scoring mechanism helps for further treatment strategy.

Treatment is planned according to the general health of the baby, severity of exposure to the drug, gestational age at which the baby is exposed to the drug etc.

Due to withdrawal of the drug, most of the babies are extremely irritable and overactive. Parents must keep patience during the treatment. The baby feels comfortable with wrapping up in a blanket or swaddling. These babies are hyperactive and hence they lose lot of energy. Hence they need extra calorie. A high calorie formula may be needed. If there is severe vomiting or diarrhea which increases risk for dehydration, such babies may need intravenous drips to replenish fluid that is lost. Medicines will be required to treat seizures. Once the severe symptoms subside the dosage of medicine is gradually decreased. This will help the baby to wean off from the drug.

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