Doctors warn of growing incidence of babies born with drug withdrawal symptoms

Illustrative photo: Oriol Martinez / freeimages

Doctors warn that in the past five years there has been an increase in the number of babies born with a neonatal abstinence syndrome as a result of their mother’s drug addiction. Hospitals and child centers across the country confirm this trend.

Illustrative photo: Oriol Martinez / freeimages
The neonatal clinic of Prague’s Motol hospital registers two births a month on average where the mother is an addict and the baby suffers from withdrawal symptoms. A decade ago it would have been two such cases a year. Doctors say that the generation of women now giving birth had a bigger chance of coming into contact with drugs and some become pregnant before they’d kicked the habit. Those who seek help in the country’s Drop in centers get advice as to how to minimize the risk for their children, but many simply don’t care. Marta told Czech Television that she injected two doses of crystal methamphetamine daily while she was pregnant, including the day on which she gave birth.

“Yes, I knew what the risk was for my baby, but back then I suppose I simply did not care. When he was born Peter was a nervous baby, he would sleep a lot and gradually he started losing weight.”

Today Marta is clean and her son has overcome the handicap with which he entered the world, but he is one of the luckier ones. Most drug addicts who give birth leave their child in the hospital and don’t look back. The Ostrava orphanage Domeček is home to one hundred children. Half of them were born to addicted mothers. Orphanages in Karlovy Vary, Liberec and Pilsen have similar statistics.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
Most of the mothers were dependent on crystal methamphetamine – a drug produced in home labs in the Czech Republic. Their babies’ dependency at birth varies. Most undergo treatment lasting for several months. Milos Cerny, head of the neonatal department of Prague’s Motol clinic explains.

“The symptoms range from excessive-high pitch crying and irritability to spasms and seizuers. We work with a twenty point scale and if the baby’s problems exceed seven points then the child requires treatment.”

The severity of the baby’s withdrawal symptoms depend on the type of drug the mother used, her daily doze and for how long she took it, among other things. Babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome require reduced noise and lights, in some cases IV treatment and tranquilizers. Those with severe withdrawal symptoms may need methadone and morphine –depending on the drug the mother used during pregnancy.

Photo: Martin Němec
Another concern is the number of women who do not stop smoking during pregnancy. The Czech Republic has one of the highest numbers of women in Europe who smoke – 27 percent of the female population. According to the results of a poll a tenth of them do not stop or even curb the habit during pregnancy, half of those who smoke make an effort to smoke less. Forty percent stop smoking altogether. Doctors warn that the chance of pregnant women suffering an abortion is 50 percent higher in smokers and babies born to heavy smokers are believed to be at greater risk of cot death.