A Nurse Perspective on Infant Drug Exposure

I began working with children and families in crisis in 1982. I started as a social worker for a children’s shelter in Louisville, KY. Years passed, moves happened, marriage and family took front seat and now here I am, a nurse working with children and families in crisis. My avenue of ministry to families in need of help veered off from social work to nursing but the population remained the same, families with small children experiencing a life crisis.

I came to work at Nurses For Newborns in 2009 following five years in a hospital setting working in the NICU and high risk Labor and Delivery. As a nurse working for NFN, I have opportunity every day to nurture families challenged by social issues as well as health-related needs. NFN’s social call is to nurture and strengthen families. The medical call is to save the lives of fragile babies and women with a fragile pregnancy.

The majority of my clients are women (prenatal and post-partum) in active addiction, on medication assisted treatment, or they are new to treatment support and recovery. Addiction is a chronic disease. The quality of life for a mother and her unborn child or the newborn she has brought home following NICU treatment for substance dependency is fragile. That family is in crisis and NFN is a crucial resource our area has to help support these babies. In my opinion, without NFN, the community would see more families fail, children in DCS custody, and mothers dying from an overdose.

I do not condone a mother’s substance use. Neither do I express my personal feelings of substance abuse on her. Mom knows she has a problem. Mom is aware of the destructive behaviors she forces on herself to manage her addiction and keep the pain (both physical and emotional) she does not want to feel at as much of a distance as possible. What the mother rarely understands is how her disease of “addiction” will impact her baby at birth and long term. She needs help. Condemning the mother will only push her in the opposite direction. I need to be involved with her and her baby. I need to help her understand how her use of substances in the pregnancy’s first trimester, when most active users do not even know they are pregnant, and her continued use will most certainly have immediate and long term consequences for her child.

Help with treatment and recovery can be found but is not always readily available, especially if mom wants to stay with her newborn. But there is help for her baby through NFN, which can help assess the baby’s needs through age-related assessments, education of how mom’s substance use (her drug of choice, her alcohol use, and/or her tobacco use) impacts the baby’s central nervous system, encouragement offered providing mom hope the baby can be treated through Neonatal Neuroplasticity, and support in her long journey of recovery. She and the baby will have the nurse to walk alongside of her, for at least two years, cheering her on to meet her goal of clean and sober living.

-Nurse Nancy