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Babies Born on Methadone: The NICU

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As a new mother, I bet you’re terrified?

For babies born on methadone or other medicine-assisted treatment, you are scared. You have no clue what your baby’s stay in the N.I.C.U. will be like.

Although it is normal to worry because that’s what moms do.  I promise you don’t have to.

Here is the breakdown from a woman who’s experienced it firsthand, more than once.

Trust and believe, I was a nervous wreck the first time.  Yet, as it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. That being said, neither do you.  

Taking Care of A Baby Born On Methadone

First and foremost, you have done the best thing possible for your child. Deciding to get help with your heroin addiction was the right choice to make. I know it is difficult to admit you need help especially when you are pregnant. Many mothers fear that they might lose their child or they feel embarrassed. Just remember, by choosing to transition to methadone, you may have quite possibly prevented a miscarriage or harming your unborn baby with illegal drugs. The hospital takes special care of babies born on methadone. Your baby is born healthy and happy. Plus, if you use methadone as the doctor prescribes it and use no other drugs. You will have custody of your newborn.  Look at it this way.  As

The hospital takes special care of babies born on methadone. Your baby will be born healthy and happy. Plus, if you use methadone as the doctor prescribes it and use no other drugs. You will have custody of your newborn.  Look at it this way.  As a pregnant woman in methadone maintenance treatment, you have done everything exactly as you should. Truthfully, you have done what many women can’t.  Give yourself a pat on the back for making the right decision so far.

Knowing What to Expect

Let me begin by saying that there is not a set time your newborn baby will be in the NICU (neo-intensive care unit).  Every hospital, every infant, and every situation are unique, special, and different. Babies detox differently.  For some it’s easy.  While other babies may have a harder time.  One thing to keep in mind is your baby will not be in the hospital forever.  Being that you were on a medication and not a street drug, your baby will be going home to you.  If you have lost a child due to addiction, then you know just how significant and monumental this really is.

babies born on methadone

Been There, Done That

Personally, I’ve had two children born on methadone.  Both of my kids are healthy and perfect.  They are normal children.  No one would ever know they were born on methadone unless I tell them otherwise.  As you can clearly see, my child was born on methadone.  Wait, not just one of my children were born on methadone but two.  I have experience in this topic.  Although, each case is different.  Luckily, I have learned a thing or two.

I am going to explain my individual NICU stays so you can see that every child’s situation is different.  Although every hospital is different. Typically, a baby born on methadone will have to stay several days at a minimum for observation.  The medical staff has to be sure the baby will not experience any withdrawal before sending them home.  No matter what you may think, every baby does not withdrawal from methadone. I know this personally.  One of my children went through methadone withdrawal. While my other baby did not experience any withdrawal symptoms.

First Pregnancy

My daughter did not withdrawal from methadone.  She was my first child born on methadone.  I will be honest with you.  Sadly,  I did use heroin in the beginning of my pregnancy and then made the choice to transition to methadone.  My highest methadone dose during the pregnancy with her was 125 mg. Even though she did not withdrawal from methadone, she did have to stay in the NICU.

Why, you ask?  It is because she was born almost 3 months premature.  Her weight at birth was 4 pounds and 4 ounces. Being that she was born so early and so tiny, she couldn’t suck properly to feed.  Thankfully, she was able to learn fast.  She had a feeding tube in for 2 days.  Before you assume the wrong thing, this had nothing to do with the methadone. Neither did her being born prematurely.   You seem my little girl simply chose to enter the world and there was no stopping her.

Second Pregnancy

On the other hand, my son did experience withdrawal from methadone. Seeing him sick broke my heart because I know how he felt. Consequently, I was so glad when they made the choice to medicate him.  His entire detox stay was approximately 2 weeks. Although, he was only in the NICU for 1 day. The next day I made the decision to transfer him. In my city, we have a fantastic option that I was a candidate for. I do not know for certain but, I believe other cities have similar programs.

Both my son and my daughter were born at Magee’s Women’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.  I love this hospital.  The medical staff is remarkable.  Yet, I had the option with my son for him to stay at Mario Lemieux’s Children’s Home. Which, I decided to do.  That’s why he did not stay in the NICU.  It’s the same quality of care, just a more home-like environment.  Not to mention, the whole family could stay with him.

The Children’s Home & Lemieux Family Center

Saying that the Children’s Home is amazing is an understatement. For those of you who do not know, a famous hockey all-star, Mario Lemieux, founded the Children’s Home.  The Pittsburgh Penguin Lemieux and his wife gave birth to twins.  The twins were born prematurely so they had to be in the hospital for a few weeks. Not only did they have newborn twins, they had other children.  How could they be in both places at once?  As a mom, Ms. Lemieux wanted to take care of her newborn twins while still being able to care for her other children. It was very hard to do both at once, pretty much impossible. That being said, Lemieux and his wife, created The Children’s Home.

At Lemieux’s Children’s Home, you can stay overnight. Some families even stay the entire length of their baby’s stay.  The great thing is that your other children can stay too.  Plus, it doesn’t matter how old they are.  You have your own room.  Your baby is under the care of doctors and nurses around the clock just as they would be in the NICU. The new baby has his or her own room in the medical unit. Although, that is not where you and your family stay. There are designated floors for families which include playrooms, restrooms, bedrooms, kitchen, dining area, and a living room.  Yet, the cool thing is that your newborn can stay in your family’s room.  Nurses come all night long to check in on her.  If mom needs sleep, the nurses will take the baby for you.  Truly, it is a remarkable place.

If for any reason, your baby needs to sleep in her own room in the medical unit then, you can get a cot and sleep in the room with her.  Although, that option is only for one person.  Not everyone can stay in the baby’s room. As a mom, I absolutely loved having the opportunity to stay there.  While it wasn’t the same as being at home, it is as close as you can possibly get.

The scenario is similar to regular life.  In my case, Daddy went to work all day. While, my daughter, the baby, and I stayed at the Children’s Home all day. Plus, there is around the clock medical staff there at all times.  If your city doesn’t have a program like this then they need to get one.  It was a lifesaver.  As a mother, you want to be with your newborn and your other children constantly, just as in real life.  Thankfully, I was able to do this and it was the greatest thing ever.

Not Being With Your Baby At The N.I.C.U.

Even though, these programs exist doesn’t mean every family gets the chance.  Sadly, some mothers can’t be at the NICU or similar programs 24/7. They have to work, other children have daycare or school.  You have pets that need to be fed, relatives to tend to, or a business to run.  While all moms would love to be with their new child all the time.  Unfortunately, they can’t.

As with my first child born on methadone, she was in the NICU at the hospital the entire time. While I would have liked to but once mom is released from the hospital, you can’t stay overnight in the NICU. Although, you can rest assured your baby is safe because the NICU medical staff is great.  They care and nurture your child and all the other babies in the NICU.  The nurses will call you daily and update you.  Thanks to technology, there are even apps you can download to watch your baby when you aren’t there.  Remember, this is their job.  These nurses love and care for these babies as if they were their own children.  Now, let’s move on to NAS.

babies born on methadone and their roomNAS – Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

What is NAS?  It sounds scary, doesn’t it? Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) is the problems that arise when a baby is exposed to opiate drugs in the womb throughout the mother’s pregnancy.  Simply, if a pregnant woman is addicted to a substance so, is her baby.  Surprising to some, this does include methadone. Even though methadone is legal as long as the person is prescribed, it is still a medication that one becomes dependent on.

For People Who Don’t Know

Mothers addicted to opiate drugs while pregnant are recommended to transition to methadone. Withdrawal from opiates while pregnant can harm the baby or even cause a miscarriage.  Fortunately, MMT can and will prevent this from happening.  Plus, if you become pregnant while taking methadone, medical professionals all agree that the pregnant woman should stay on methadone throughout her pregnancy.

Please remember, not all babies will have to detox.

Scoring System

The severity of their withdrawal is based upon a scoring system.  For example, one scoring system is known as the Lipsitz neonatal drug withdrawal scoring system. The scoring system ranks your baby on the signs and symptoms of withdrawal. Once they score high enough, they then go to the NICU to detox from methadone. Doctors use morphine to detox a newborn baby from methadone. It will not harm the baby or your baby will not experience euphoria. The purpose of the morphine is to prevent your baby from feeling ill and uncomfortable.  Think about how sick you feel when you were withdrawing? Do you want your newborn baby feeling like that?  Of course not.

The Symptoms That Increase Your Baby’s Score

    • Crying, excessive or high-pitched or shrill
    • Blotchy skin is also known as mottling
    • diarrhea
    • not eating well
    • trembling
    • shaky
    • fever
    • excessive sucking
    • irritable
    • restlessness
    • muscle tightness
    • trouble sleeping
    • sweating
    • sneezing
    • vomiting
    • slow weight gain
    •        seizures

When your baby experiences symptoms like these, their score will be high.  The nurses will decide when it is time for your baby to go to the NICU to receive special care.  As a mother, if you see your baby suffering these withdrawal symptoms, you will want them to feel better.

In the NICU, your baby will receive all of the medical attention and care they could possibly need. Together the doctors and medical staff will decide the duration of your child’s stay.  After the baby is completely done with methadone detox and Child Services finds no reason to have involvement.  Then it is time for you all to go home.

As a result of your hard work in recovery, you can now be the mom you want to be.

CPS (Child Protective Services) Involvement

Of course, your county’s child services will have involvement in the situation. By law, the medical staff has an obligation to call CPS if a mother or child has any form of drugs in their system.  Just because the mother claims to have involvement in MMT does not necessarily mean that it is true. Your CPS caseworker will meet will you and discuss the current situation.

First, the caseworker will verify your involvement with a methadone clinic. Then, he or she will speak to your counselor or methadone therapist.  If you are doing well, there is no need to worry. The child worker will continue on to inspect your home, talk to doctors, visit the baby, drug test you, and so on. Finally, the caseworker will decide if a case needs to be opened.

If you are in recovery.  Your home is clean and respectable, you have food, all the essential baby items, the baby will be properly taken care of, etc.  The worker will find no reason to further investigate and open a case with CPS. It is done and over with. The end.

Easy-peasy, right? At first, I did not understand why they had to call CPS.  I had a nervous breakdown.  Nobody told me why or would explain anything. Thankfully, when the CPS worker and I finally met.  She did explain why she had to investigate and it was fine. She was a great lady. All was well. Most importantly, I did what I had to.  Therefore, there was not a problem or reason to open a case.

Babies Born On Methadone

It is an easy process.  It is hard to deal with the fact that your child must detox from methadone because of you.  Yet, look at it this way.  Is it better for your baby to be born on methadone or to be born on heroin?  I think the answer is obvious.  Even though, you still don’t like it.  As a mother, you made the right choice.  Your baby needs you.  At least, this way, you will have your child.  More importantly, your child will have its’, mother. Thankfully, you took the hardest step.  It was the best decision you may ever make and trust me, you will not regret it.

You will get to watch your baby grow up.  Now, you won’t have to miss their first step or first word.  Since you are in recovery and on MMT.  You will be able to provide a life for your child.  Anytime you think of using dope just look at your baby. Hopefully, that is the greatest reason you have to stay clean and in recovery.

A Little Thing You Need To Know

A baby’s love for their mother is unconditional.  It doesn’t matter if you made bad decisions in the past, that baby will love you no matter what.

Right now, you are your child’s everything.  Thankfully, your past does not matter to your child.  All they know is that you are their mom and they love you.

If your baby has to detox off of methadone.  They will never remember it.

Yet, if you don’t get on methadone and lose your baby for good.  Your child will always know that their mother couldn’t quit drugs for them.  Which would you rather happen?  The choice should be easy. Yet, at times is not as easy as one may think. Please make the right choice.  If you already have, congratulations. You will soon be the proud mama of a healthy, beautiful baby.

A Look At Your Baby's Stay in the NICU

Were you on MMT while pregnant?  If so, how was your baby’s stay in the N.I.C.U.?  Did your baby even withdrawal?  Let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear other mother’s stories.

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IMPORTANT INFORMATION

I am NOT a licensed therapist. For immediate help call the Substance Abuse Mental Health Service Adminstration’s 1-800-662-HELP. It's a free 24/7 service for ppl facing mental +/or substance use disorders.Or you can use the online treatment locator HERE.

Comments

  1. I am currently on methadone treatment and am 8 months pregnant they r still worki g on getting my dosing correct i am still getting sick and am forced to take heroin shots every once in a while and im so scared that i have screwed up my families future i am trying wverything i can to not take anything but methadone but im so scared that if i let myself get severely wick it will harm my little girl i dont know what to do im trying my best but its not that easy

  2. I am 3 months pregnant and on 35mgs for pain problem. I plan to not increase any this pregnancy but I’m scared for my baby to be born on methadone I don’t know what to do

    • Honestly hu. 35 mgs isn’t much at all. You are only 3 months pregnant – most likely you will NEED to increase as you get further along. You don’t want your baby going through withdrawal. Don’t quote me on the numbers but your baby takes something like up to 80% of the methadone you ingest. So if you were on 35 before you got pregnant. It’s going to feel like you are only taking 15 mg. It will be hell for both you and the baby. You can always go back down. I have had 2 children on methadone. One didn’t go through any withdrawal whatsoever. My son did but when I knew he didn’t feel good, I wanted them to put him on medication. You don’t want your baby to be sick. He was off of it and home in less than 10 days with no problems. The doctors know what they are doing. If you would like to talk and I can go into more detail answering questions, feel free to email me. It will be alright. Congrats on your pregnancy! Being a mom is the best!

  3. I’m on 110 mg of methadone and I’m 5 months pregnant with my first baby. I was on methadone before finding out I was pregnant and have felt soo bad about being on it until reading this made me feel sooo much better. I went up 30 since being pregnant I was gonna try going down but I still sneeze a lot and am kinda uncomfortable at times especially when I get up before getting dosed. I really don’t want my baby to withdrawal but it makes me feel better knowing she might not and if she did she’s still gonna be just fine. I have some more questions but I rather email u if its ok. Thanks sooo much

    • I’m glad you feel better and congrats on being pregnant. Being a mom is the greatest thing ever. I would like to hear more of your story and tell you more of what I know. Feel free to email me at hello@unjunkiefied.com (My sites a bit wonky right no because I’m installing a new theme lol)

  4. Hello, I would like to ask you some questions as well. I am in the same boat as the woman above that is 8 months and very sick from Methadone withdrawls bevause the dose is not lasting and I have been using shots here and there to get through the withdrawls. I am currently waiting for the results to see if I can get split dosing , which would be the answer to all my problems. I am 3 months pregnant and I feel so terrible about what I have been doing, yet I do not know how to deal with these awful
    Withdrawls and I am scared that those are even worse for my baby. Please help me with some advice. I feel like a terrible mother. I want to stop and just not be sick anymore. I want to be healthy and clean for myself and most importantly, my baby!

    • Hi Jacki,

      All clinics operate differently. Especially bc each state has their own laws pertaining to methadone. But a pregnant woman on methadone often receives split doses and dose increases pretty easily for the sake of the baby. I have a ton of questions that I want to ask you to gain a better understanding of the situation. If you would email me at hello@unjunkiefied.com then we can talk more and keep it private. If you choose not to email me then my advice would be to try and get stabilized as quickly as possible for the sake of your child. You need to stop using drugs asap. Most importantly, for your baby’s health, The first 3 months are critical to your child’s development. Not to mention, if you are positive for anything besides prescription medications at birth then Child Protective Services will get involved. So try your hardest not to use. I will be waiting for your email.

  5. I’m glad I came across this website. I have been on Methadone for 10 years. I would have stopped a long time ago but I can’t afford to be home sick with withdrawals. In on 75 and planning to taper off slowly. I’m 34 with no children, however I do want at least one. The only thing is, I feel terrible having a child while taking it. My sister is a neo natal nurse and I love her and I know she loves her job, but she is making me feel awful about staying on Methadone while trying for a baby. I don’t want to wait until I’m off of it completely because by then I will be too old to conceive. I’m at a loss and Its depressing. Anyway I’m glad I found this website thank you for making moms on Methadone not feel like such a pariah.

    • Stephanie,

      Well, I am 34 years old too. When I began lowering my dose, I was petrified of being sick with my little ones who are super active at all times. Just go slow when you taper and it will be fine. Listen to your body, it knows best.

      I used to be super against methadone. I thought it was nothing more than a legal way to get high. Obviously, things have changed. lol If you do it right then there is nothing to worry about. I have had 2 children on methadone and they are BOTH healthy, active, crazy kids. No offense to your sister but if she’s never dealt with addiction and that sort of thing then she could be stigmatizing it just a bit. Luckily, during both my pregnancies, all of my nurses and doctors were great. I actually recall my baby doctor and mother getting into it because I wanted to breastfeed on methadone and my mom was flipping shit. Just so you know, the doctor won that argument. lol If you ever want to talk or ask any questions. Please don’t hesitate to email me at hello@unjunkiefied.com

      And I’m sure your sister has seen some pretty scary things being a neonatal nurse and her intentions are good. She loves you but don’t let methadone stop you from having a child. It is God’s greatest gift. My kids are my world even if I’m pulling my hair out every single day.

  6. Thank you for writing this! I am currently 23 weeks pregnant with my first. I was originally at 120mg a year ago and was tapering down before finding out I was pregnant. I’m currently at 77mg and was so scared for my little boy. Thank you for the reassurance 💕

    • Your welcome. Relax, do what you have to do and take comfort that you are doing the right thing. If you’ve already tapered by almost 50 mg in a year then I feel as if you have the mindset you need to use the mmt program correctly. Congrats on your pregnancy and take joy in being a mama. It’s a life-changing experience. You will truly know what unconditional love is and nothing can replace it. 🙂

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