First it was birthing centers — recognizing that, when possible, mothers and babies do better when births occur in a home-like room rather than amid the harsh lighting and machinery of a traditional delivery room. Now, Asante is taking a similar approach to babies born addicted to opioids because of their mother’s drug use.
Research has shown promising results from letting mothers comfort their distressed newborns rather than putting the babies in neonatal intensive care units. Researchers found babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome — the medical term — who were held, fed and comforted by their mothers spent far less time in the hospital and needed less morphine or methadone to ease their withdrawal symptoms. That’s good for the babies and good for the moms, who get coaching from hospital staff on how to care for their new arrivals. Partners, family members and others in the mothers’ support systems also receive training.
The reality of addicted babies is a sad side effect of the opioid addiction epidemic affecting too many people across the country. Every month, about six babies are born addicted at Medford’s Rogue Regional Medical Center and Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass. Babies suffering withdrawal symptoms at Ashland Community Hospital will be transferred to Medford.
The new program, called “Eat, Sleep, Console,” has the potential not only to improve outcomes for babies, but it offers moms additional incentive to conquer their own drug dependency by providing the tools to help them better care for their infants. The babies learn to nurse — which can be difficult for addicted babies — and the moms learn how to help them.
A new mother whose baby is whisked away to neonatal ICU at birth may feel she is being punished. That will make her less likely to want to make changes in her own life. And taking home a newborn who may have spent more than 20 days in the harsh ICU environment and is difficult to handle at home only adds to an already stressful situation for both mother and baby. It can be hard to feel much sympathy for the moms, who put themselves and their babies in harm’s way, but failing to help them also fails to help their babies.
Hats off to Asante for leading the way on what promises to be a healthy, common-sense approach to a difficult problem.