A new study finds that when parents spend a considerable amount of time next to their baby recovering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) (opioid withdrawal symptoms), the outcomes are greatly improved.
The findings were presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) 2016 Meeting.
“Encouraging and supporting mothers with substance abuse disorders to be involved in their infant’s care while they are being treated for withdrawal symptoms should be a priority of providers caring for opioid-exposed newborns,” said said lead author Mary Beth Howard, M.D., M.Sc., at the Boston Children’s Hospital/Boston Medical Center Combined Residency Program.
NAS is becoming an increasingly common condition as more infants are being exposed to opioid use in the womb. Symptoms include tremors, intense irritability, poor feeding, vomiting, diarrhea, and poor sleep. Treatment often requires weeks of hospitalization and pharmacologic treatment.
The study found that newborns whose parents spent more time at their bedside had less severe withdrawal symptoms and shorter hospital stays during treatment for NAS.
Howard notes that previous studies have already established strong evidence that non-pharmacologic interventions such as breastfeeding can ease NAS symptoms. But the underlying mechanisms as to why breastfeeding helps, she said, are still unclear.
Researchers hypothesize that the skin-to-skin contact during breastfeeding may be a key factor. Some research has even shown that having parents “room-in” or share a hospital room with babies undergoing NAS treatment decreases the need for pharmacologic therapy. She said this study supports the idea that a parent’s physical closeness has therapeutic effects on babies with NAS.
“Our results show that non-pharmacologic interventions play a key role in treating opioid-exposed infants and lessening the severity of NAS,” said Howard. She adds that healthcare providers should continue to encourage parental engagement in care during the NAS infant’s inpatient stay in order to improve outcomes.
“Rooming-in may provide opportunities for bonding and normalize the postpartum process for women who may feel vulnerable and stigmatized because of their opioid dependence history,” she said. “Creating a more secure, compassionate, and comfortable environment for mothers and infants will likely lead to improved outcomes for both mother and infant.”
The research is part of a larger quality improvement project at Boston Medical Center designed to increase parental presence at the bedside for infants with NAS through prenatal counseling.
For this project, health care providers work with the parents to educate them on the benefits of parental presence to reduce NAS symptoms and to identify potential barriers to being at the infant’s bedside, such as transportation and childcare, and help them to brainstorm solutions.