New Research on Best Treatment Options for Newborns with Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome

baby in pain

The number of infants with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS) is increasing. A new study by researchers and clinicians from Kessler Foundation and Children’s Specialized Hospital, published in Hospital Pediatrics*, suggests two factors may lead to better outcomes for these children.

The first is length of stay.

The research team compared newborns transferred for special care after 15 days of life to those transferred for special care on or before 14 days of life. Each infant (92 in total) was transferred from other hospitals to Children’s Specialized Hospital (NJ).

The researchers found that babies transferred earliest could be weaned off withdrawal medications in 14.2 days on average vs. 20.4 days on average for those transferred at later dates.

The second factor – and this comes as no surprise – human touch, swaddling, rocking, pacifier use, breastfeeding or bottle feeding, and having a parent live in the room with the baby produce better outcomes.

How does a child develop NOWS?

A child exposed to opioids in the womb before birth goes into painful withdrawal from those drugs after birth.

According to the National Center for Substance Abuse and Child Welfare, symptoms of NOWS may include “severe irritability, difficulty feeding, respiratory problems, and seizures.”
Why’s this new data on outcomes meaningful?

The National Institutes of Health reports, “infants with pharmacologically treated NOWS have significantly lower cognitive, language, and motor scores on standardized developmental testing compared to population means at one year of age.”

Put another way, the faster a child can be weaned off withdrawal drugs – the better their lives will likely be.

The research team hopes these findings will lead to better early intervention strategies for these children.

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