Every day four babies in the UK are born addicted to drugs. These new-borns usually require treatment right away, which can include giving them with opiate drugs. It is a disturbing situation that happens about 1,536 each year (according to an investigation by the Daily Mirror. There are 464 cases of babies experiencing withdrawal symptoms as soon as they are born, which can include convulsions, fever, and tremors; it is impossible to know how much discomfort these new-borns experience. The saddest part of it is that many of the babies die from this addiction even before they can start to have a life.
How Can Babies be Born Addicted to Drugs?
The idea of babies being born addicted to drugs like heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine is disturbing, but it happens all the time. The reason it occurs is that mothers have been using these drugs during their pregnancy, so these chemicals have been passed along to the unborn infant by way of the placenta (an organ that connects the mother to the foetus). The unborn baby becomes addicted just like the mother; once the baby is born, it will be cut off from the supply of this drug, and so it will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms.
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome
The withdrawal symptoms that new-borns experience after being born with an addiction is called ‘neonatal abstinence syndrome’. This is not only something that occurs due to illegal drugs but can also due to alcohol abuse or misuse of prescription drugs. Some of the symptoms that can occur as a result of neonatal abstinence syndrome include:
- body shakes/tremors
- screeching – high pitched crying
- disinterest in feeding
- blocked nose and sneezing
- blotchy skin
- failure to thrive – slow weight gain
- sucking more than usual for a baby
- profuse sweating
- baby appears irritable
- reflexes are hyperactive
- abnormal muscle tone
- not sleeping properly
- increased respiratory rate.
The exact symptoms the baby experiences will depend on a number of factors such as the specific drug, the amount the mother was using, and the strength of the baby (for example, if the baby is born prematurely, it can mean a reduced ability to deal with symptoms). In some cases, the withdrawals can be relatively mild; at other times, the baby’s life can be in danger almost as soon as he or she is born.
The treatment needed to deal with neonatal abstinence syndrome depends on the seriousness of the withdrawals. In some instances, the new-born can adjust without the need for too much intervention but, in the case of opiate addiction, it may be necessary to wean the baby off the drug by giving a reducing dose of morphine.
Concerns about Rise in the Number of Addicted Babies
There has been a 22 per cent increase in the number of babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome in the past 10 years. There have been 7,800 within the last five years. These new-borns did not choose to be addicted, yet they suffer the consequences just the same. It not only means that they start life by experiencing withdrawal symptoms, but there can also be lasting consequences of this early addiction.
The news of the rise in babies who are born addicted has already generated plenty of outrage but what are needed are solutions. There needs to be more support offered to pregnant women who are caught up in addiction so that they do not share this dependency with their unborn child. Breaking free of these substances can be incredibly tough and there are not enough resources being used to deal with this problem.