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Neonatal abstinence syndrome

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is a condition that occurs in newborns when they are experiencing withdrawal symptoms after birth. These symptoms are caused by exposure to certain drugs, like opioids, while in the womb prior to birth.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) care in Virginia

We give you the medical care, therapeutic support and hope you need to overcome substance abuse during and after pregnancy.

If you are pregnant and also struggle with addiction, you need specialized care that meets your needs. With our addiction treatment program for pregnant women, our specialists monitor your baby's development throughout your pregnancy. Our substance abuse experts offer the medical and behavioral health services you need to get well and stay well. With respect and compassion, we work with you to give you and your baby a healthy start.

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Symptoms of NAS

NAS — also known as neonatal withdrawal — affects each child differently. Babies exposed to drugs and alcohol may experience complications both in the womb and after they are born. How much a baby is impacted depends on the type of drug used, how frequently it was used, the last time it was used and whether the baby was born full-term. Common symptoms of neonatal withdrawal include:

  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive crying
  • High-pitched crying
  • Inability to suck or feed
  • Seizures
  • Sleep problems
  • Tight muscle tone
  • Tremors
  • Unstable body temperature
  • Vomiting

NAS care program

Our maternal addiction program provides ongoing high-risk pregnancy care, substance abuse treatment, specialized labor and delivery services and ongoing postpartum support.

Maternal addiction program

Our NAS support programs take place at Henrico Doctors' Hospital and Johnston-Willis Hospital. Through our behavioral health services, we offer life-changing and lifesaving care to pregnant women struggling with substance use. Our NAS programs have helped numerous women give their babies the healthiest start with supportive substance abuse treatment and advanced prenatal care. As you continue to heal, we connect you with the resources you need to proudly and confidently maintain sobriety as a new mom.

Women who use drugs or alcohol during pregnancy may give birth to babies who are addicted to those same substances. When the umbilical cord is cut after birth, the baby’s supply of the substance is cut off. As a result, the baby may develop NAS in which they begin to show challenging withdrawal symptoms anywhere from 24 hours to seven days after birth. This may also be called "neonatal withdrawal syndrome."

Some of the features of our programs include:

High-risk pregnancy care

Our maternal-fetal medicine doctors (perinatologists) deliver high-risk pregnancy care to carefully monitor you and your baby during pregnancy and prevent and treat conditions that may arise. Your prenatal care includes:

  • Birth planning, including getting ready for labor and delivery and preparing for any immediate medical care your baby may need
  • Ongoing obstetric care to monitor your baby’s growth and development

Daytime treatment program for addiction

Our unique daytime treatment model means you receive behavioral health and medical services for several hours of the day, then you return home in the evening.

Some features of our day program include:

  • Daily progress meetings with our staff to identify areas of concern and discuss your goals
  • Goal setting and treatment planning
  • Family meetings designed to help you create a healthy support system
  • Medication management
  • Psychiatric evaluations and care
  • Safe, physician-guided detoxification (detox)
  • Self-directed assignments focused on self-discovery, behavior insights and preventing relapse
  • Structured group therapy sessions with other pregnant moms

Long-term, comprehensive support

We offer you access to an entire team of medical professionals and substance abuse experts throughout your pregnancy and after your child is born. Postpartum support may include an introduction to additional local recovery resources, including 12-step programs.

Features of our NICUs

We are among the first hospital systems in Virginia to treat newborns with NAS. Our renowned care for babies with substance withdrawal includes:

  • Around-the-clock readiness — Our specially trained caregivers are ready to handle emergencies at a moment’s notice. We also have a physician on site 24/7 so we don't have to wait for on-call support to arrive if your baby needs immediate care.
  • Gentle critical care — Our NICU staff cares for babies who need quiet and reduced light in a low-stimulus environment.
  • Extended visitation — Most of our NICUs allow you to be by your baby's side 24 hours a day. Many provide a place to sleep and other accommodations.
  • Breastfeeding and pumping support — We provide a breast pump for moms to pump at their baby’s bedside or in a separate space. Our nurses can store your milk, and you have access to a bottle warmer when it's time for your baby to feed.
  • An extra pair of hands — Some of our hospitals have volunteers called “cuddlers.” They help hold and cuddle babies when you have to return to work or care for older children. We encourage you to take whatever time you need in this regard and to remember it is important to take time to care for yourself.

Multidisciplinary NICU care team

Your baby's NICU care team will be led by a neonatologist, a doctor with advanced training in caring for babies with medical conditions after birth. Other NICU team members include:

  • Neonatal nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists
  • Respiratory therapists
  • Maternal-fetal medicine doctors
  • Feeding and swallowing therapists
  • Physical and occupational therapists
  • Pharmacists
  • Case managers and social workers
  • Lactation consultants

Drugs associated with NAS

Most cases of NAS are linked to drugs called opioids, although symptoms are also linked to other prescription medications, alcohol, nicotine and street drugs. Talk to your doctor right away if you are pregnant and using any of the following:

  • Antidepressants
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Codeine
  • Heroin
  • Hydrocodone
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Sleeping pills
  • Tramadol

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