Nearly one in 500 newborn babies are addicted to drugs because their mother misused substances during pregnancy, figures revealed.
The BBC sent a Freedom of Information request to 72 NHS hospital trusts in England. The responses showed that on average 0.2 percent of babies in each trust were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).
NAS occurs when the baby’s mother has been taking an addictive substance during pregnancy. Often associated with heroin, methadone, and codeine, the baby is born dependent on the drug and may suffer from withdrawal symptoms including problems with feeding and sleeping, a high temperature, slow weight gain, trembling and vomiting.
The BBC’s investigation showed that the problem was worse in some areas of England than others. In 2015, one percent of babies born at Bedford Hospital showed symptoms of NAS, compared to just one in 5,000 at Leicester General Hospital.
In Leeds, the condition affected around one in 250 babies born in the city.
Pregnant addicts given additional support
If midwives suspect a pregnant woman is abusing drugs, they may ask her to take a drugs test. The mum-to-be may then be referred to a specialist midwife and given additional support throughout her pregnancy.
However, drug users are less likely to attend antenatal appointments and may attempt to hide substance misuse because they are frightened their baby might end up being taken into care.
Official figures estimate that one in 100 pregnant women are problem drug users, while another one percent have issues with alcohol dependency. The main drug abused by pregnant women is heroin and expectant mums may be prescribed methadone to help them overcome their addiction.
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