How doctors use mothers to treat opioid-dependent newborns

Baby Massage Class, Switzerland, new mothers learn how to massage their baby for its well-being and to help with

When babies are born with an opioid dependence, they are usually taken from their mothers — the source of the drug addiction –and treated with tiny doses of morphine in neonatal intensive care units. But some medical professionals say there is a better option for treatment: keeping the babies with their mothers.

As The New York Times reports, opioid-dependent babies have proliferated as the opioid crisis has deepened. Between 2003 and 2012, the rate of infants born with a drug dependence has grown nearly five times in the United States. The problem is particularly acute in rural America, where many hospitals do not have neonatal units equipped to deal with opioid-dependent babies. So infants are typically transferred to different facilities, making it difficult for their mothers — who are often poor and still drug-addicted — to reach them.

But some studies have shown that keeping mothers nearby for massaging, cuddling, and breastfeeding, when possible is a viable alternative for treating babies in withdrawal. This strategy is known among medical professionals as “rooming in.”

Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Lebanon, N.H., recently allowed mothers and opioid-dependent newborns to stay together in the hospital. “Rooming-in reduced the length of stay for morphine-treated infants to 12 days from nearly 17, and the average hospital costs per infant to $9,000 from roughly $20,000, according to a study published last year in the journal Pediatrics,” the Times reports.

As Dr. Matthew Grossman, a pediatric hospitalist at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, put it: “Mom is a powerful treatment.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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