At Methodist, Opioid-Exposed Babies Stay With Mom

Not long ago, when a baby was born addicted to opioids, he would be whisked away from mom and put in the neonatal intensive care unit.

When he started showing signs of withdrawal, the baby was treated with morphine to help stop the awful tremors and seizures and irritability.

But then, doctors and nurses and those closest to the babies started noticing something. When baby was kept with mom, he needed less medicine – if any at all. He could be soothed by his mother’s touch.

IU Health Methodist Hospital has made the shift. Babies born exposed to opioids stay in the room with mom and dad. They aren’t taken to the NICU.

“What we’re finding more and more now is that the more the mom and baby are together and mom is breastfeeding and soothing baby, the baby tends not to need the medication to such a degree,” says Emily Scott, M.D., medical director of the well newborn unit at Methodist.

The paradigm has shifted mostly in the last year, she says.

“We are trying to focus more on mom, dad and family and good supportive care being the first medicine for baby,” Dr. Scott says, “rather than going automatically to using morphine.”

As baby stays with mom, the hospital trains parents on how to soothe babies and how to respond quickly to the newborn’s needs. Morphine is used only as a last resort for babies who can’t be soothed from their withdrawal symptoms.

As for people who question whether a baby should be with a mother who exposed them to opioids?

The vast majority of moms who come to Methodist have been in supervised treatment programs, Dr. Scott says. They are on a stable does of medicine that allows them to not withdraw during the pregnancy and to not crave opioids.

“The mom is stable and safe and in a good place,” Dr. Scott says. “She can be a good, supportive provider for the baby.” 

And in many cases, those babies are ready to go home within five days.

— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email or on Twitter @danabenbow.