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Learning About Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)


Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is a set of problems that may affect a baby if certain drugs were used during pregnancy. This is also called neonatal withdrawal syndrome. The drugs pass through the placenta and enter the baby's bloodstream. The baby's body gets used to the drug. After birth, when the drug starts to leave the body, the baby goes through withdrawal. This may happen within hours after birth or later, depending on the drug.

NAS is caused by certain drugs or prescription medicines. Some examples include opioids such as heroin, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, and hydromorphone. It's important to tell your baby's doctor what medicines or drugs you took. The doctor also needs to know how much you took and when you took them. This can help the doctor give you and your baby the best care possible.

Babies who have NAS may be cranky and jittery. They may cry a lot, and they may have problems feeding and sleeping. This can be very stressful for both you and your baby. But most babies recover after their body has gotten rid of the drug. How long this takes depends on the drug and how much is in the baby's body.

Treatment will help keep your baby from getting worse while the drug is still in the body. Your baby may need special care, such as being in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). This may be scary for you. The hospital staff understands this. They will work with you to answer any questions you have about your baby's condition and treatment.

How is it treated?

Your baby's doctors and nurses will help you learn how to care for and bond with your baby. They'll also help you feel comfortable with the care that your baby gets in the NICU. For example:

  • The NICU staff will do things to soothe your baby. For example, they may wrap your baby in a blanket. This is called swaddling. They can teach you how to do this.
  • The NICU staff will closely watch your baby. Your baby may get fluids and oxygen if needed. The staff will also make sure that your baby is getting enough nutrition and gaining weight.
  • The doctor may give medicine to ease the effects of withdrawal and make your baby more comfortable. The medicine may be given by mouth or through a blood vessel. Your baby may be given less of the medicine over time to allow the body to adjust.

What can you expect in the hospital?

  • Your baby's doctors may talk with you about the treatment your baby needs. They may discuss things that will help you care for your baby during your stay in the hospital and after you leave.
  • You may see tubes and wires attached to your baby. This can look scary. But these things help the doctor treat your baby. The tubes supply air, fluid, and medicines to your baby. The wires are attached to machines that help the doctor keep track of your baby's vital signs. These include temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate, and pulse rate.
  • It's hard to be apart from your baby, especially when you're worried about their condition. Know that the hospital staff is well prepared to care for babies with this condition. They will do everything they can to help. If you need it, ask for support from friends and family. You can also ask the hospital staff about counselling and support.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

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