Keep newborns with opioid withdrawal, mothers together: Canadian Paediatric Society

In response to the growing number of babies born to mothers with opioid dependency, the Canadian Paediatric Society has issued a document that supports keeping mothers and babies together to improve health outcomes, and encourages the use of skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding to manage withdrawal symptoms in newborns.

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Getty Images/iStockphotoDocument issued by the Canadian Paediatric Society reflects a shift in paradigm in the way babies exposed to opioids are managed.


The document released Thursday reflects a shift in paradigm in the way babies exposed to opioids are managed, from one in which newborns have traditionally been separated from their mothers and treated in neonatal intensive care units, to a family-centred model.

Dr. Thierry Lacaze, chair of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s fetus and newborn committee, says women who use opioids already tend to feel guilty about the impact their drug use may have on their infants.

“This whole concept of keeping them together and supporting them to ensure that babies and mothers will have a better outcome is also … to avoid stigmatization, to tell those women, ‘You are on opioids, we are going to help you,’ ” he says. “So basically, we move from a kind of a stigmatization perspective to a very different approach.”

Dr. Lacaze says the Canadian Paediatric Society began working on the document two years ago when it recognized the need to provide some guidance on how to treat a growing number of pregnant women and babies affected by the opioid epidemic. Nearly 1,850 babies were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a set of symptoms that occur when babies experience withdrawal, in the 2016/2017 reporting year, up 27 per cent from 2012/2013, according to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, not including Quebec.

The document Dr. Lacaze and his committee produced does not provide formal recommendations for practitioners, but is instead considered a practice point, offering a review of the latest research. Dr. Lacaze says it will help health-care practitioners seek the resources and support they need from hospital administrators and policy-makers to carry out the practices outlined in the document, and will also provide doctors with guidelines on which drugs to use, if needed, and how to progressively wean babies off medication.

Dr. Newman is part of a group that is pushing for the development of a residential facility in Kingston that would allow women to stay with their children while they work on their recovery – a project that extends the rooming-in concept beyond neonatal care.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Edmonton and Area Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network.

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