While pregnant or in labor, women experience amounts of pain that most men couldn’t dream of. They have to put up with this pain somehow…so according to a recent article, over the last decade, there has been a rise in use of prescription pain killers that has spread to maternity wards in the US. Unfortunately, because these painkillers are opiate-based, there has also been a rapid increase in the number of pregnant women addicted to opiates and also the number of babies born with withdrawal symptoms.
A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has estimated that about one baby every hour is born with opiate withdrawal symptoms, and about 13,500 per year. According to the study, this condition, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, results in seizures, breathing problems, dehydration, difficulty feeding, tremors and irritability in infants at birth. These infants must be hospitalized for up to many weeks while doctors ween them of their opium dependence with smaller doses of morphine or methadone.
The study, after looking at two databases consisting of “representative samples” from patients across the country, made two shocking discoveries. Over the period from 2000-2009, the number of pregnant women using opiate pain killers increased to five times as much, while the number of babies diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome tripled at the same rate.
Not only is it an awful thing for these infants to be born addicted to opiates, but it also takes “a tremendous amount of nursing care” and time to cure these babies, according to Dr. Mark Hudak of the University of Florida College of Medicine. In the study, infants averaged about 16 days in the hospital. It takes them this long to be initially “cuddled,” placed in a dark room, then given tapered doses of methadone or morphine until the baby is weened. However, Hudak also states that “[morphine and methadone] are easy to overdose babies with” and that “there have been deaths” in this treatment.
According to the article, doctors agree that the best approach to deal with this problem is to cure women of their addictions before they are pregnant and prescribe them little or no opiate painkillers.