Help prevent neonatal abstinence syndrome by talking to a loved one

There can be stigma surrounding substance use disorder during pregnancy. Learn how you can advocate for a loved one to get help.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there is a baby born with symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) or neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS) every 15 minutes in the United States. It can be scary for pregnant women to seek treatment for substance use disorder due to fear of repercussions and possible stigma. However, recovering from substance abuse disorder while pregnant is safer for mom and baby than giving birth while actively using drugs or alcohol. If you have a pregnant friend or loved one with substance use disorder, what can you do to help?

How Substance Abuse Affects Pregnancy

Before talking to your loved one about substance use disorder, learn about how alcohol or drugs affect pregnancy for both mother and her baby. With that information, you can begin to have a dialogue and say that you want to help your loved one have a healthy, happy pregnancy.

When a woman is pregnant and has substance use disorder, the baby can be affected by those substances as well. A baby whose mother was using opiates (such as heroin or oxycodone) while pregnant may experience symptoms including:

  • Pain
  • Screaming
  • Excessive sucking
  • Tremors
  • Agitation
  • Seizures

If a woman is dependent on alcohol, the newborn may experience fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). It can cause slow growth, facial abnormalities and brain disorders, including developmental disabilities. Newborns with NAS or FAS require specialized care in the hospital.

Substance use during pregnancy can lead to:

  • Miscarriage
  • Premature birth
  • Baby with low birth weight
  • A child with behavioral issues
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • A lifetime of learning disabilities for the child
  • A child who struggles with substance dependence throughout life

Norton Maternal Opiate and Substance Treatment (MOST) Program

Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital
4001 Dutchmans Lane
Louisville, Kentucky

(502) 559-4375

How to Get Help for a Pregnant Loved One

Pregnancy provides an important opportunity for friends, family and OB/GYN physicians to identify a substance abuse issue in women and get them help. Women with substance use disorder can face a lot of challenges in getting the help they need for both substance use and pregnancy. Support is critical, because perceived stigma may discourage these women from seeking care.

You can help a loved one by having a conversation. While it may a difficult conversation, you can help provide the support your loved one needs to find help. Here are some steps you could follow to frame and start the conversation:

  • If possible, find the window of time that she is able to listen and not under the influence, but not in active withdrawal, to have the best chance of an effective conversation.
  • Try to remain in a supportive role, speaking on the benefits and how treatment will make her feel better, protect the baby and reduce her feelings of fear and guilt.
  • Instill hope in her and explain that you know of specialized services offered for women experiencing pregnancy and substance use disorder.

Treatment services designed specifically for pregnant women can be hard to find. Many programs to treat substance use disorder may be reluctant to accept pregnant women, partly due to lack of knowledge about pregnancy and the unborn baby’s development. Norton Healthcare has a program specifically designed for pregnant women who find themselves in need of specialized care and support. The Norton Maternal Opiate and Substance Treatment (MOST) program offers knowledgeable, supportive staff members who are skilled in caring for pregnant women with substance use disorder and their babies.

The Norton MOST Program offers:

  • Individualized care catered to each woman’s needs, along with access to community resources and ongoing support to promote parenting and long-term sobriety
  • Compassionate care focused on the health and well-being of both you and your baby
  • Education about the possible dangers of using alcohol or illegal substances during pregnancy and how to the prevent them

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(502) 629-4GYN (4496)

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