What is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome(NAS) ?

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If your baby is experiencing withdrawal symptoms and has been asked to go for treatment to the NICU, chances are that your baby is suffering from NAS. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is a combination of symptoms that a newborn baby exhibits soon after birth due to a withdrawal from being exposed to drugs, traditionally opioids, when inside the mother’s uterus. Symptoms can often require the baby to be shifted to neonatal intensive care unit for observation. Although NAS is associated with heroin, there could be different situations and drugs that cause NAS.

When you consume drugs or medicines, it gets passed through the bloodstream and via the placenta to the unborn baby. If you use substances that affect you nervous system, they will affect the baby as well. By birth, the baby becomes used to the drug, but since the drug isn’t available anymore, the baby may start developing symptoms of withdrawal which will require neonatal care.

Let’s take a detailed look at the causes and symptoms of NAS.

Causes of NAS

Some medicines and drugs are more likely to cause this syndrome than others. Most of the times, all drugs or medicines will have some effect on the baby. If more than one drug is used, the symptoms are often worse.

Causative drugs can include:

  • Nicotine from cigarette smoking
  • Depressants like marijuana, alcohol or barbiturates
  • Antidepressant medicines like SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors)
  • Stimulants like cocaine or amphetamines (for these drugs, the effects on the baby are more likely to be because of the drugs themselves, and not from withdrawals)
  • Opioids like heroin and prescribed medicines like oxycodone and codeine

How does NAS affect babies?

In addition to the specific difficulties of withdrawal post-birth, problems affecting the baby may include:

  • Birth defects
  • Seizures
  • Premature birth
  • Poor intrauterine growth

Certain drugs will often lead to specific problems in your baby:

  • Cigarette smoking has long been known to affect the foetus. Generally, smokers have smaller babies than non-smokers. Babies of smokers may also be at an increased risk for stillbirth or premature birth.
  • Alcohol consumption during pregnancy also has significant effects on the foetus and the baby. The growth of the baby during pregnancy and after birth may become slowed and may develop deformities of the head and face, defects in the heart and mental retardation. The withdrawal symptoms of alcohol may last up to eighteen months
  • Use of marijuana is linked to lower birth weight and reduced size of the baby
  • Prenatal cocaine use may be linked to an increased risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
  • Prenatal use of amphetamines is associated with premature birth and low birth weight, and also can cause intracranial bleeding in the baby’s head
  • Heroin and other opiates, including methadone, may cause significant withdrawal in the baby, with some symptoms lasting as long as six months. Seizures can also occur and are more likely to occur in babies born to methadone users

Since some results of newborn screenings  and observations during the period of neonatal care might take days to come, having a baby that displays the above symptoms can be stressful for the child and often panic-inducing for the parents.

NAS is a condition that can be easily prevented by abstaining from drugs and other harmful substances, especially during pregnancy. Consult your gynaecologist today to know more about the prevention and treatment of this condition.