Preventing neonatal abstinence syndrome in your baby

December 18, 2018



Neonatal abstinence syndrome (also called NAS) is a group of conditions caused when a baby withdraws from certain drugs he’s exposed to in the womb before birth.

NAS most often is caused when a woman takes drugs called opioids during pregnancy. Prescription opioids are painkillers often used for pain after an injury, surgery or dental work. They include codeine, morphine, hydrocodone, tramadol and oxycodone. The street drug heroin also is an opioid. Other prescription drugs that can cause NAS include antidepressants (used to treat depression) and benzodiazepines (sleeping pills).

If you take any of these drugs during pregnancy, they can pass through the placenta to your baby. This can cause withdrawal symptoms once your baby is born. These drugs can cause serious problems for your baby.

If you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant and taking an opioid, tell your health care provider right away.

Signs and symptoms of NAS:

  • Body shakes (tremors), seizures(convulsions), overactive reflexes (twitching) and tight muscle tone

  • Fussiness, excessive crying or having a high-pitched cry

  • Poor feeding or sucking or slow weight gain

  • Breathing problems, including breathing really fast

  • Fever, sweating or blotchy skin

  • Trouble sleeping and yawning frequently

  • Diarrhea or vomiting  (throwing up)

  • Stuffy nose or sneezing


Signs and symptoms of NAS can be different for every baby. Most happen within 3 days (72 hours) of birth, but some may happen right after birth or not until a few weeks after birth. They can last from 1 week to 6 months after birth.

What can you do to help prevent NAS in your baby?


  • If you’re pregnant and you use any of the drugs that can cause NAS, tell your health care provider right away. But don’t stop taking the drug without getting treatment from your provider first. Quitting suddenly (sometimes called cold turkey) can cause severe problems for your baby, including death.

  • If you’re pregnant and addicted to opioids, ask your provider about medication-assisted treatment (also called MAT). Addicted means you can’t stop using the drug without having problems. NAS in babies may be easier to treat for babies whose moms get MAT during pregnancy.

  • If you’re pregnant and you go to a provider who prescribes medicine to treat a health condition, make sure that provider knows you’re pregnant.

  • If you’re pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, tell your provider about any drugs or medicine you take.

  • If you’re not pregnant and you use any drug that can cause NAS, use birth control until you’re ready to get pregnant.


To learn more about the safety of prescription medicine during pregnancy, visit marchofdimes.org.

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