Infants Born to Drug Dependent Mothers
Clinical Guidelines Committee
- The team is as follows:
- Midwives: Betty Wilkings (Midwife), and midwifery staff of Tamaki
- Paediatricians: Dr Mariam Buksh and Dr Simon Rowley.
- Social Workers: ADAPT team social workers, or NICU Social Workers if
baby in NICU.
- The baby is expected to be normal in all respects other than smaller
than average for gestation.
- Maternal drug use alone is not an indication for delivery attendance -
delivery will be attended by neonatal staff only if there are other fetal or
maternal reasons for attendance. If NICU admission is necessary and there
are no contraindications (e.g asphyxia, LBW) the baby may spend time with
the parents before transfer. Naloxone should be avoided because of the
likelihood of precipitating and intensifying withdrawal symptoms.
- The baby will be admitted to Tamaki Ward for observation. This could be
for up to 7-10 days but may be for several weeks if medication is needed
because of drug withdrawal.
- Breastfeeding is encouraged, regardless of the drugs that have been
taken by the mother.
- Parents are expected and will be encouraged to spend as much time as
possible with their baby.
Drug dependency care may include:
- Methadone maintenance during pregnancy.
- Methadone detoxification /benzodiazepine detoxification.
- Attendance at counselling agencies or therapeutic communities.
- Alcohol use.
- Other drugs including antipsychotic tranquillisers (prescribed or not).
- A file will be kept on Ward 32, including care plans and letters from Paediatricians which will also be filed in the maternal notes. These files are kept in strict confidence in the Charge Midwife
- Exclusions from the plan to send babies direct to Ward 32
(i.e. indications for being nursed on the Newborn Intensive Care Unit)
- Low birthweight, premature or unwell as for normal indications for admission to NICU.
- Polydrug abuse should be considered, particularly if there are confounding social factors but the methadone dose alone is not an exclusion criteria.
- Maternal and other social complicating factors.
- There is a need to ensure confidentiality for parents. A single room should be allocated if possible. The baby's history must not be discussed in front of other parents. The case notes and drug charts are to be kept in the office at all times. The baby's condition or reason for admission or length of stay is not to be discussed with anyone other than the parents. This includes grandparents.
- Visiting is the same as for all postnatal wards.
Medical and Nursing Care on
- There are a small group of primary midwives that will be dealing with
the mother and baby.
- It is important during the baby's stay in hospital that the mother has
consistency in management, deals with as few staff as possible, i.e., one
consultant or delegated junior staff member and one senior nursing staff
member to be the information providers.
- Score sheets are to be kept in the office and maintained regularly.
- It is not routine to send a urine sample for toxicology if the mother is
well known to the ADAPT team and drug use is well documented.
- If a toxicology screen is required, the first urine from the baby is to
be sent for toxicology.
- Meconium samples (which will give an indication of drug use over
recent weeks rather than days) can be sent if indicated but need to be
negotiated on an individual basis with Toxicology at LabPlus.
- The Paediatric Consultant on service for the ADAPT team will visit
as indicated and communicate with the parents and nursing staff. If the
baby is on medication, then this will be daily.
- The Paediatric House Surgeon or Registrar should be called for any
fever, vomiting, feeding problems or unstable temperature which may be the
signs of a sick baby other than drug withdrawal.
- If the baby scores 8 or higher on the score chart then the Paediatric
Registrar should be informed.
- 75% of mothers on the methadone programme are Hepatitis C positive. The
infant will need antibody and RNA virus testing at 4-6 months, 12 months and
- Gloves should be used for all nappy changes or for nursing staff changing the babies - and handling baby before initial bath.
Treatment of Withdrawal
- This is managed by the Paediatric Consultant in conjunction with the
Registrar and Charge Midwife and parents. Medications are started when the
baby has several scores of >8 and after adequate consultation.
- The medication may only be changed by a Paediatric Consultant or
- The drug used is neonatal morphine solution 1mg/ml.
- Start at 0.5mg/kg/day in 4 divided doses (that is, 6-hourly) and
reduce by 10-15% of the original dose every 2-3 days if possible. The
infant may need increasing doses for stabilisation in the first few
- Medication must be given strictly as charted given directly into
baby's mouth by syringe. The drug must be given by a Registered
Nurse/Midwife who checks the drug - not a parent.
- Medication times are not to be changed to fit in with baby's feeds
times. This interferes with the withdrawal regime. Do not draw up milk into
the syringe because dead space can lead to overdose of morphine.
- If the medication time falls between feeds it is not necessary to wake
the infant completely. It has been noted on past experience that babies take
the medication well if the syringe is slipped into the mouth and medication
is taken without any problems. The baby is then tucked back to sleep.
- An alternative treatment is chlorpromazine 2.2mg/kg/24 hours given in
four divided doses either orally or by injection. Full dosage should be
given for two to four days then weaned at two day intervals if baby's
condition, according to the clinical score, permits.
Management of an Unsettled,
- Check baby has dry napkin.
- Baby may be hungry. These babies will often take extra feeds but may be difficult or sloppy feeders. They should not be tube fed unless there are other indications such as hypoglycaemia or scores are approaching treatment levels and being unduly influenced by symptoms of hunger. Dummies are very useful. Deep water bathing and massage often help relax the baby if needed. Many babies will settle well in the swinging cradle sling. A disposable napkin or incontinent pad must be used when nursing baby in the sling to protect the sling cover.
- Frequent cuddling, walking with front pack, soothing music or quietness rather than loud music (individual variation).
- When baby is stable, mother may take baby for a walk within the unit, if on NICU, or outside the ward if on
Tamaki Ward. This is arranged between mother/charge midwife/nurse - times to be specific so that all staff are aware
(the day nursery may be used). Later on, following negotiation with charge
midwife, mother may take baby for a walk in the grounds. This is subject to
permission on each occasion.
- Midwives and nurses need to know the routine lines of communication when:
- threatened with violence
- parents are uplifting baby against medical advice
- there is inappropriate behaviour from parents and/or visitors
- A meeting may be organised prior to discharge. The following people
may be asked to attend:
- Charge Midwife/Nurse
- Public Health Nurse or Plunket Nurse,
- GP (if possible)
- Liaison Midwife
- Counsellor Methadone Services/CADS Unit
- ADAPT S/W. (occasionally CYFS personnel)
- For short stay infants who have not had withdrawal symptoms, e.g. less than 10 days there should be adequate communication between GP,
Social Worker, Paediatrician, Charge
Midwife/Nurse with phone contact with other parties.
- Babies are not followed up by Neonatal Homecare unless they have other problems such as prematurity or low birthweight, that would normally be referred.
- Medical follow up will be by the Paediatrician at clinic in
3-4 months or as necessary and we will offer a follow up appointment at one year. This is particularly important if mothers are Hepatitis C positive.
- These infants have a higher incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and although this does not justify the use of monitors, the various community support networks must be alerted.
Advice about reduction of risk factors (supine sleeping position, breast
feeding, discouraging smoking, discouraging co-bedding) should be
given. Monitors may be indicated for preterm infants.
- Mother should attend teaching sessions for:
- Home environment/clothing/when baby is sick.
- Infant resuscitation classes.
- Car seat needed.
- The NICU Team Support Administrator makes Paediatric appointment at
3-4 months for Outpatient follow up. For infants discharged home from
NICU, the Paediatric Registrar will write a discharge letter with a copy
to the General Practitioner. Include follow up of HCV testing. NB: Note
the privacy act and confidentiality.
Points of Interest
- 70% of babies born to mothers taking heroin or methadone will manifest signs of withdrawal. Some are only mildly affected. Babies born to methadone addicts show more frequent and severe signs than heroin addicted mothers.
- The likelihood of the baby being affected is related to maternal consumption and the length of time addicted.
However some babies born to heavily affected mothers may show no signs, while those born to 'light' users may show significant signs of withdrawal.
- Although 70% will show signs of withdrawal, only about half of these will have signs severe enough to require treatment. 90% of these showing signs will start to have them within 48 hours. Initial signs of withdrawal are rare after 10 days of age.
- About half of affected infants requiring treatment need it for 10 - 20 days and one third for up to 49 days after birth.
- Mortality is said to be about 3% but with treatment should be virtually nil.
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