Helping A Baby Born Dependent On Drugs: A Guide For Prospective Foster Parents

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If you are a foster parent or a potential adoptive parent, you may have the opportunity to care for a baby who was born dependent on controlled substances. This occurs when the mother consistently uses addictive drugs throughout pregnancy up until delivery. Once the baby is no longer receiving the drug through the placenta, he with suffer withdrawal symptoms, just like any other person would. If you are considering caring for a child with this problem, here is what you need to know about treatment and prognosis. 

You won't have to suffer through on your own.

Many prospective foster or adoptive families are wary of taking on a newborn child that has immediate and serious medical problems. They may think it is too much trouble or that they are not up to the task. However, the first few days of withdrawal are critical, and the doctors know it. Generally, the baby will stay in the hospital for observation and much of the initial withdrawal will be handled by medical professionals. You will still be able to visit and hold the baby, of course. You can expect to see some of the following symptoms while your baby is still in neonatal care:

  • reflexive involuntary muscle movement 
  • rashes or blotches on the skin
  • inconsolable crying
  • seizures, tremors, or shaking
  • inability to feed correctly
  • vomiting and sweating
  • difficulty sleeping

These symptoms will all be monitored closely and, if possible, relieved as much as possible. Doctors will run a toxicology screen on bowel movements and urine to test for drugs that are present in the system and monitor as their levels decrease. Usually, a baby will be given an IV to help administer fluids and prevent them from getting dehydrated. 

Your care can make a big difference.

After the initial physical symptoms have subsided, the baby will be released into your care with plenty of instructions from the doctor on how to proceed. Generally, you can expect that a child suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome will be harder to calm -- they can be restless, cry more often, and need more attention than a typical newborn. You can help to restore patterns of natural calming (without the need for drugs) by rocking, shushing, and swaddling for comfort.

These babies will probably have a lower birth weight and may have trouble putting on weight. Your doctor may prescribe a specialized feeding regimen with formula that is high calorie. To help the baby keep and absorb the nutrients, you can feed him small amounts of formula more often. 

For more information on drug dependence treatment, talk to a recovery program in your area.