What is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome?

Authored by First City Recovery Center    Reviewed by Dr. Vahid Osman    Last Updated: August 18th, 2021


Dr. Vahid Osman Medical Reviewer
Dr. Vahid Osman, MD is a psychiatry specialist in Indianapolis, IN. Dr. Osman completed a residency at Austin State Hospital. He has over 32 years of experience in Psychiatry & Behavioral Health. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

The opioid crisis in the United States has become an evident issue in recent years, and just about anyone can develop a substance use disorder, including someone who is pregnant. At First Recovery Center, we have seen this happen more often than you might imagine. It is a heartbreaking thing to see, largely due to the dangers of using opioids when pregnant.

How Does a Pregnant Woman Fall Victim to Opioids?

Some evidence suggests that women tend to be at higher risk of becoming addicted to opioids compared to men. What makes matters worse is that, more often than not, the substance use disorder in women tends to be lifelong. The chances of a woman going through several stages of their life dealing with an opioid substance use disorder are pretty high.

There are quite a few reasons as to why this problem affects women in greater numbers. For one, it seems that chronic pain affects women more than men, which could lead to the over-prescription of an opioid. The prescription of this drug alone does not always lead to a problem, but some healthcare practitioners are more likely to think women cannot handle the pain compared to men.

Men also tend to underreport the pain they are feeling while women usually do not hesitate to report intense pain. As antiquated as it may sound, men are expected to be strong enough to handle a bit of discomfort, and this may play a bit of a factor as well.

How Long Do Opioids Stay in Your System?

One of the dangers of opioid use is that even if you try to stop using it after discovering you are pregnant, it stays in your system long after that. Keep in mind that some women do not even find out they are pregnant until after a few weeks have passed; in some cases, they may not even know for a month or so.

It should also be pointed out that some opioids stay in the body longer than others, depending on the kind of opioid used and the amount prescribed or taken. Sometimes, the method of consumption affects the amount of time it stays in the body. Your health and body type could also affect how long it will stay in the body.

Some opioids can be found in places like hair follicles up to 90 days after usage. For heavy users, keep in mind that some of the drug deposits into body fat. This means the body will continue to release opioids, but it will do so slowly. This is one reason why you should stop taking opioids before you get pregnant. You will be doing a whole lot of good for yourself and your baby.

What are the Risks if You Use Opioids When Pregnant?

A developing baby depends on their mother for everything, including nourishment. What a mother consumes and eats will get to the baby at some point. This is the reason doctors always ask if you are pregnant before prescribing anything or while you are in the hospital. This is also why every over-the-counter medicine contains a warning for pregnant women. Opioids can cross the placenta if you are taking them while pregnant. Exposure to this kind of drug could lead to various problems.

Birth Defects

One thing just about every parent fears is having a child with birth defects. While unexpected birth defects do occur, they are sometimes very much predictable, and instances like this tend to be at a higher risk of occurring if an expectant mother is taking opioids.

A National Birth Defects Prevention study was able to uncover how dangerous it is to take this drug while your baby is still developing. The following are some of the potential problems a baby could face because of this substance use disorder:

• Congenital heart defects – Sometimes, a child with this problem can live a healthy life, but in other cases, they need a heart transplant.
• Gastroschisis – This means the baby’s intestines stick out of their body. Surgery treats this issue, and normally, the baby survives but may have digestion issues afterward.
• Glaucoma – An eye disorder that puts pressure on the eye and could even damage the optic nerve. If it goes untreated, the baby could go blind.
• Hydrocephaly – This could cause a baby’s head to grow bigger than normal. They can develop cognitive issues or impaired vision, among many other problems. It is treatable but understandable scary for a parent.
• Some babies have trouble developing their brain, spine, or spinal cord. There are countless ways this could affect a baby in their lives.

These are just some of the birth defects that may occur, and they provide more than enough reasons to try to fight this substance use disorder as early as possible.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Another problem your baby could face is neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS. As mentioned earlier, opioids can cross into the placenta, which puts your baby at risk of all sorts of things, including this particular problem. In essence, it means your baby becomes dependent on the opioids you have been taking.

The baby develops a substance use disorder through no fault of their own. However, newborns could experience withdrawal symptoms like anyone else who is trying to let go of this substance. These symptoms are incredibly hard for a full-grown person to go through, so it is difficult to even try and process what a baby goes through.

The withdrawal symptoms start to kick in after two or three days of being born. The following are some things a baby might go through:

• Excessive crying
• Irritability for no reason
• Jitteriness.
• Tremors
• A loss of appetite or not eating as well as they should
• Vomiting, diarrhea, and general stomach pain
• Weight loss
• Varying degrees of a fever and excessive sweating
• Rapid heartbeat
• Seizures

These symptoms can be further aggravated if the baby has been exposed to another type of drug in addition to opioids, such as stimulants like cocaine or nicotine from cigarettes.

Placental Abruption

Placental abruption could happen because a mother uses opioids during pregnancy. In essence, the placenta separates from the uterus before it is supposed to. This means the baby is not going to get everything the mother provides, like oxygen or nourishment.

No parent wants to go through something like this, and the truth is other complications could occur when a mother uses opioids during pregnancy. The following are other dangers to be aware of:

• Sometimes, a mother experiences preterm labor and even premature birth. These are delicate births that put a baby in serious trouble.
• Preeclampsia is also possible. This means your blood pressure will be too high, and that could put you at risk of dying along with the baby.
• Miscarriages or stillbirths also seem to happen more often with women who are taking opioids during their pregnancy.
• Babies could have problems growing, which could lead to low birth weight.
• Once the baby is born, the child could be at a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
• Someone using opioids is not always mentally present, and that is a major danger to a newborn.
• Maternal cardiac arrest is possible due to all the pressure the body is under with the pregnancy and substance use disorder.
• A cesarean delivery may happen more often if the mother is taking opioids. This is a more serious type of delivery, and it can also leave a scar behind.

What Can You Do to Fight This Substance Use Disorder Before It Affects Your Baby?

The reality is opioids are hard to give up. The chances of someone developing a substance use disorder tend to be quite high, and letting it go is not an easy process. Some would argue that giving up opioids is one of the hardest things a person can go through.

The good thing is you do not have to do this alone. First Recovery Center is here for you, and we have the tools and experience to make things a bit easier for you. This is all possible because we rely on proven results, proven research, and proven techniques to help you through the process.

As tempting as it might be, quitting opioids on your own is nearly impossible. It is possible that you do not want to admit to anyone that you have a problem, or maybe you are embarrassed that you even need the help. Try to let go of those thoughts, though, as right now what is important is that your baby is safe. Trying to do this on your own could be dangerous for you, especially in your current condition. This has to be treated delicately and with professional observation.

The withdrawal symptoms that a mother has to face are incredibly challenging, and they put a lot of stress on your body. Your body is very fragile right now, and it may not be able to take the pressure you are going to be putting it under if you try to quit cold turkey. You do not want to cause fetal complications because you are trying to deal with this substance use disorder on your own.

You may already be aware of some of the symptoms you could go through if you are going through withdrawal, and these include issues like abdominal cramps, nausea, diarrhea, chills, and muscle aches, just to name a few. These symptoms can be quite severe, especially if you are trying to go through all of this on your own.

If you know you are pregnant, you should give us a call as soon as possible. If you know a woman who is using and you want her to get the help she needs right now because you know she is also pregnant, then please call us. If you are trying to get pregnant, then make sure you deal with this before you get pregnant. If you are having unprotected sexual encounters, then the chances of becoming pregnant are relatively high, so it is better to deal with this now rather than later.

Trying to overcome a substance use disorder is incredibly challenging, but we also know the importance of being properly motivated. We can coach you and help you see why it is important to overcome your addiction to opioids. First Recovery Center employs experienced professionals who put you front and center.

We want you to succeed and get well, and we want you to live a happy life with your baby. Do not hesitate to contact us with any questions that you may have.

Your Recovery Begins Today

You probably have a lot of questions, which is absolutely normal. Our compassionate staff is available around-the-clock to take your call and address any concerns you might have. Many of us have been right where you are and understand what you’re going through.
Don’t wait – call us today!

Give us a Call

At First City Recovery Center, we are dedicated to your physical well-being, your emotional health, and your overall success on the road to recovery.

We are committed to you. Our team is willing and ready to assist you as you begin and continue your path to freedom from addiction.