We’ve all heard about the dangers of secondhand smoke, but did you know that other people can suffer the physical effects of your drug or alcohol addiction? Specifically, babies who are born to mothers with substance abuse disorders are at risk for a variety of developmental problems, both mental and physical. One such condition is called neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is actually a group of problems that a baby can experience when withdrawing from exposure to narcotics. Typically, it’s caused by the mother taking opioid drugs while the baby is still in the womb.

When the baby is in the womb, it’s being fed by something called the placenta. This is an organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy, and blood from the mother filters through it, providing oxygen and nutrients to the baby while removing waste from its blood. The umbilical cord connects the placenta to the baby. When you take opioids or other substances, they pass through the placenta just like other things you ingest, only they can cause serious harm to the baby.

Typically, symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome occur within three days (72 hours) of birth, but they may happen right after birth or not until a few weeks later. They can last from one week to six months after birth. Some of the symptoms are: body shakes (tremors), seizures (convulsions), overactive reflexes (twitching), tight muscle tone, fussiness, excessive crying or having a high-pitched cry, poor feeding or sucking or slow weight gain, breathing problems, including breathing very fast, fever, sweating or blotchy skin, trouble sleeping and excessive yawning, diarrhea or vomiting, and stuffy nose or sneezing.

Babies suffering from withdrawal get treated much the same way as adults do. They may be given drugs like morphine, methadone, and buprenorphine. They tend to get dehydrated as a result of diarrhea and vomiting, so they will be given intravenous fluids. Because of the trouble feeding and slow weight gain, they may be given a higher calorie formula. Usually, they will get better within five to thirty days, although long-term effects like birth defects and behavior or developmental problems are still possible.


It’s not only people with substance use disorders that need to worry about neonatal abstinence syndrome. If you’re already taking a prescription medication like Codeine, OxyContin, or morphine, you need to tell your doctor as soon as you find out you’re pregnant. Don’t stop taking the medication right away, because that can cause dangerous withdrawal side effects, but you may need to taper off of them and find an alternative pain relief method. If you’re taking one of these drugs and you aren’t yet pregnant, you might want to consider using birth control until you decide to get pregnant, so you can make the decision to stop using the medication before trying to have a baby.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.