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Very Early Withdrawal Pain in Newborns Exposed to Opioids

Study Shows Higher Risk of NAS Development and Need for Special Care

Newswise — Babies exposed to opioids while their mothers were pregnant with them may need special care even before they start to experience withdrawal symptoms, according to Penn State research.

Researchers from Penn State College of Medicine found that as soon as 24 and 48 hours after birth, babies who were exposed to opioids prenatally reacted more strongly to pain and scored higher on a skin conductance test, which measures the electrical differences in skin in response to pain or stress.

Dr. Christiana Oji-Mmuo, assistant professor of pediatrics, said the study suggests that babies who were exposed to opioids in the womb may need special care earlier than previously thought.

“These babies are responding to pain differently than babies who were not exposed, so maybe we should be paying attention to pain management earlier,” Oji-Mmuo said. “If we have to do a painful procedure like a heel lance, we may have to provide extra comforting measures, both during the procedure and after if they continue to be stressed.”

Oji-Mmuo said that as opioid use continues to be a problem in the U.S., so does the risk of babies being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). She said an estimated 55 to 94 percent of babies born to mothers who used opioids during pregnancy will develop NAS.

According to the researchers, opioids block the release of norepinephrine, a chemical released in the body during times of stress. When the baby is born and is no longer exposed to opioids, the baby experiences a spike in norepinephrine and other chemicals and hormones in the body. This can result in such symptoms as irritability, eating poorly, sweating, fever and seizures, among others.

Oji-Mmuo said that while there are guidelines for screening babies at risk for…

For more information about NAS, click here.

Read the full press release.

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