by Bernie English
NEWBORN babies are having to be treated in Limerick’s maternity hospital for withdrawal symptoms because of their mothers’ drug abuse.
UL Hospitals Group has confirmed to the Limerick Post that during the period 2008-2014, 32 babies were born and admitted to the neonatal unit of the University Maternity Hospital Limerick with withdrawal symptoms from maternal use of drugs .
But, despite national figures showing that Ireland leads in women admitting to drinking alcohol during pregnancy, no Limerick babies were registered in this period with fetal alcohol syndrome.
The effects of maternal drug use on babies can be very severe with symptoms including seizures, sweats, tremors, sleeplessness, vomiting, diarrhea, and problems eating and breathing.
Nationally, almost 600 babies have been born drug addicts since 2008.
Heroin and other ‘hard’ drugs feature large in the problem but prescription drugs such as Valium and antidepressants are increasingly the cause of babies suffering withdrawal.
It can take up to sixth months to wean a newborn off an addiction.
Experts say that not all babies exposed to drugs in the womb develop signs and symptoms of withdrawal but up to 95 per cent show symptoms and up to 80 per cent of those will need treatment.
Christine McDermott, a Registered Advanced Nurse Practitioner in Neonatology at Dublin’s Rotunda Maternity Hospital said: “These newborns are extremely irritable, they’re over-stimulated and suffer tremors and even seizures.
“They show signs of respiratory distress, they have problems feeding, and if they do feed they gulp a lot and vomit and because their gut is over-stimulated, they suffer from diarrhea.
“They get the sweats, they don’t sleep more than an hour and can cry for up to 18 hours a day, this extremely high-pitched, very specific cry which is instantly recognisable to any professional.
“The most common drug babies are exposed to in utero is heroin and even methadone as it can be abused even though it’s prescribed but I have to say prescriptions drugs like antidepressants, Valium and benzodiazepines are also increasingly common yet those babies show fewer symptoms.”
Christine revealed: “When a baby is born and the chord is clamped, a period of withdrawal begins and we try to support them during the process.
“As much as possible we try to avoid giving them drugs but sometimes we have to although here in Ireland we do not give methadone to babies, despite the fact medics in the US and Australia do.