Making sure newborns in withdrawal grow up healthy
On Monday, we told you about a unique program helping babies born to New Jersey mothers who used heroin, painkillers or other opioids during pregnancy. Many of the newborns go into withdrawal and must take methadone or morphine, and endure weeks of therapy -- but the potential problems don't stop there.
"Most of the newborns are allowed to go home after four to six weeks, but they need to go through neurodevelopment testing for months, and sometimes years," said Dr. Sharon Burke, director of the Infant and Toddler Rehabilitation program at Children's Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick.
The babies are given a specialized screening test, called the Bayley Scales of Infant Development.
"That looks at cognitive functioning: gross motor, fine motor and language, receptive and expressive," Burke said.
But why is it necessary?
"What we have found through our testing is that more than 14 percent of the babies have problems identified at time of discharge with cognitive processing, and another 40 percent have problems with language skills," Burke said. "This is very significant because if those deficits are not addressed appropriately, these children could start entering school age with significant problems."
Babies that may have these issues get follow-up treatment in an outpatient setting.
"Every three months they do Bayley assessments to make sure that the babies are getting better, or referring them for outpatient therapies to address those needs," Burke said. "This is very critical, because this is the time in an infant's development when you want to be identifying deficits and addressing them as quickly and appropriately as possible."
Marianne Aiello, a patient care coordinator at Children's Specialized Hospital, said many mothers feel tremendous guilt about the obstacles they've created for their babies, but they are reminded that "this is a judgment-free zone. We are not here to judge them; we are here to help them with their baby and to really help the family move forward."
However, Aiello said the ways in which a family does go forward may differ: the child could be placed in a foster home, or go home to its mother and father, or even to another family member.
"We're not here to really judge them or be harsh," she said. "We're here to support them."