Neonatal Drug Withdrawal
(Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome)
by Patricia Griffin Kellicker, BSN
Neonatal drug withdrawal occurs when a baby who has been exposed to drugs in the uterus develops withdrawal symptoms. This occurs because the baby is no longer exposed to the drug the mother was taking. This condition can be caused by medications, alcohol, and illegal drugs. It can take weeks to months for a baby to fully withdraw from a drug. Without treatment, this can be a life-threatening condition. If you used drugs during your pregnancy, tell your doctor right away. Your baby can be tested and treated after delivery.
This condition is caused when a woman uses drugs and/or alcohol while pregnant. Drugs that cause this condition include:
Risk Factors TOP
Factors that may increase your baby's risk of having neonatal drug withdrawal include:
Depending on the type and amount of drug exposure, symptoms can develop within hours to days after birth.
Neonatal drug withdrawal may cause:
The doctor will examine your baby based on their symptoms and your medical and drug history. To diagnose your baby correctly, the doctor needs to know what drug you took during pregnancy, how much was taken, and how often. Your baby will have a physical exam.
Your baby's bodily fluids, tissues, and waste products will be tested. This can be done with:
Your baby's bodily structures may need to be viewed. This can be done with x-rays.
Treatment options include the following:
The baby may need to stay in the hospital to be closely monitored for:
The baby may be given medications to help during withdrawal. Medications will differ based on the drug from which the baby is withdrawing.
Supportive Care TOP
The baby may need IV fluids, oxygen, high-calorie formula, tube-feeding, or other support.
To help reduce your baby‘s chances of getting neonatal drug withdrawal:
National Institute on Drug Abuse
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Toronto Area of Narcotics Anonymous
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Improving treatment for drug-exposed infants. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US). 1993;Report No:(SMA)93-2011.
Neonatal opioid withdrawal. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated June 19, 2017. Accessed September 25, 2017.
Schub T, Ashley TJ, et al. Neonatal abstinence syndrome: an overview. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at:
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Updated July 15, 2016. Accessed September 25, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2016
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