23 November 2001
Plenty of cuddles and 3-hourly feeds are the best treatments for infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), according to a Victorian study.
Neonatal abstinence syndrome occurs in babies born to mothers dependent on drugs such as heroin. Shortly after birth the baby will suffer withdrawal symptoms due to the addiction it has formed while in the womb.
Researchers at Melbourne's Royal Women's Hospital found that supportive therapy, such as cuddles and frequent feeding, considerably reduced the length of stay in neonatal special care units and general hospitalisation compared with giving the baby medication. The hospital has changed its choice of treatment for infants of mothers who are opioid dependent, based on the results of the research.
As well as keeping the child with its mother, supportive therapy involves as much human contact as possible and 3-hourly feeds.
Principal researcher Katie Khoo, who holds a PhD and masters in public health, presented her findings at last month's Pharmacy Australia Congress.
�The hospital will first try supportive therapy; if this does not work, then they will use morphine,’ she said.
Study participants included more than 100 neonates with moderate to severe NAS who had methadone- or heroin-dependent mothers.
Each infant was randomly allocated to one of 3 treatments: supportive therapy only, morphine plus supportive therapy, or phenobarbitone plus supportive therapy.
As well as reducing hospitalisation time, Dr Khoo said supportive therapy prevented mother-infant separation during the important bonding stage.
�Babies in withdrawal are sensitive to noise and light, and they become very disoriented and frustrated. Supportive therapy is able to calm the babies and help in the interaction and bonding between mother and child,’ Dr Khoo said.
She said the introduction of supportive therapy had been important for parents as well as their babies: ‘Parents feel very guilty knowing their baby is suffering because of them — giving the parents a way of helping their baby has an impact, psychologically, that you can't measure.’
Last Reviewed: 23 November 2001