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Published on March 20, 2017

Exceptional Care for Newborns with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Neonatal Abstinence Task ForceNearly thirty years ago, Women’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit’s (NICU) Debra Sansone, RN, adopted her first child, an infant boy with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), a serious condition for newborns withdrawing from certain medications or drugs they were exposed to during pregnancy. Since that time, Sansone has adopted three more children, who may have suffered from NAS as infants as well. Today, as a nurse, Sansone is one of many Cone Health NICU providers who are passionate about caring for NAS infants.

“Today, we are much more aware of the red flags, which may indicate a higher likelihood of an infant born with NAS,” said Sansone. “As practitioners, it’s imperative we appreciate the very difficult situation, provide education and support, and most of all, treat these new mothers and their infants with the utmost compassion and care.”

“In my experience, it’s most important for us to refrain from judging parents of NAS infants. We shouldn’t make them feel bad about their choices, problems or past,” said added Amy Stowers, NICU support staff member with Family Support Network of Central North Carolina. “Instead, as volunteers, we need to treat these moms just like any other mom. We don’t know their situation or what hardships they’ve faced. We need to do everything we can to ensure the best outcome possible.”

“No one grows up saying I am going to be a drug addict. No little girl ever wishes that for herself,” reflected Sansone. Over the last five years, the rates of NAS have risen more than 240 percent in North Carolina, according to the Perinatal Quality Collaborative of North Carolina. That's why Cone Health is part of a statewide effort establishing hospital standards for neonatal abstinence syndrome patient care and treatment.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Task Force

Courtney Brown, left, and Amy Riddle, right, review information about neonatal abstinence syndrome with Jenny Grayer, NNP, of Women’s Hospital. The two were touring the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) prior to their potentially complicated deliveries.

For the 20-member task force from the Women's & Children's Center at Moses Cone and Alamance Regional, that effort begins with education. "We praise these moms for taking a step in the right direction for having a healthier baby,” said Tina Hunsucker, NNP. "There can be a lot of guilt on the mom's part for the choices she’s made, so we try to praise them for being a part of a supervised program."

If you know someone who may need a NAS pregnancy consultation, please contact the NAS Team at 336-832-6807.

Task force members consult with identified moms on topics such as withdrawal, treatments for withdrawal and what to expect when a NAS infant leaves the hospital. Most of the women are in a supervised methadone treatment program that includes intensive drug counseling, group therapy and drug testing. "It is a supervised program, so that's the good news. But it's a paradox because methadone can have developmental repercussions for newborns. Ultimately, though, methadone is safer than the baby being exposed to heroin or other substances of abuse," said Jenny Grayer, NNP.

The task force partners with other community groups like the YWCA Perinatal Substance Abuse Committee, Community Care Coordination pregnancy care providers through the Guilford County Health Department and others. "We work in conjunction with these community partners to reinforce a consistent message," explained Grayer. Babies at risk for withdrawal have to stay in the hospital an average of 19 days for treatment and may need follow-up care for two years in the Cone Health NICU developmental clinic.

Concluded Hunsucker, “We’re preparing these moms with the goal of sending them home with a healthy baby and a roadmap for the future.” 

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