Forth Valley babies suffer from mums’ addictions

In NHS Forth Valley 25  babies were born hooked on drugs between 2011-13
In NHS Forth Valley 25 babies were born hooked on drugs between 2011-13

Mothers-to-be are putting their unborn children at risk by drinking and taking illegal drugs.

Babies born to drug-using mums can die if not given help quickly, suffer seizures and have problems seeing.

Pregnant women who drink alcohol put their child at risk of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) causing facial deformities, behavioural problems and learning difficulties.

Between 2011 and 2013, NHS Forth Valley saw 25 babies born hooked on drugs and requiring help. Thirty were born last year with problems because their mothers drank.

Babies born to heroin and crack cocaine addicts often display withdrawal symptoms after birth and have to be given reducing doses of the drugs to wean them off.

NHS Forth Valley encourages mothers who use drugs to breastfeed. Studies show their babies are less likely to be affected by problems associated with addict babies and only small amounts of the drug enters the milk.

Anne Vallance, clinical ward manager at Forth Valley Royal Hospital’s neonatal unit, said: “The effects vary greatly and depend how much the mother was taking and at what point in her pregnancy she was taking them. Drug misuse can have an impact on the birth weight, cause the baby to be irritable, have poor sucking reflexes and have difficulty gaining weight.

“Most mothers who abuse drugs are honest with their midwife and admit what they have been doing, it’s in the interest of their baby.

“In all cases the baby and mother are nursed together and only if the baby requires more specialised care will admission to a neonatal ward be required. It is important to keep the family unit together whenever we can.”

Last week The Falkirk Herald reported on a 33-year-old heroin-addicted pregnant woman who was told she risked having her baby in prison. She appeared at Falkirk Sheriff Court for breaching a court order imposed for supplying the class A drug. Her solicitor told the court she was having difficulties with addiction and was still taking drugs despite being in the latter months of pregnancy. She was given one last chance to comply, but was told it was her last chance to avoid a prison birth.

NHS Scotland figures show the number of babies born to drug-abusing mothers has doubled in five years, from 516 in 2007-08 to 1119 in 2011/12 with 974 infants suffering neonatal withdrawal symptoms between 2010-13. Symptoms of babies withdrawing from drugs include seizures, vomiting, delayed visual development and death if they are left to detox unaided.

Drinking alcohol while pregnant carries huge risks with the foetus at risk of developing FASD. The condition causes learning difficulties and behavioural problems as the brain and nervous system are damaged by alcohol. The more serious condition, FAS, is caused by heavy drinking and babies born with it display facial deformities and learning difficulties.

Around 30 babies are born each year at Forth Valley Royal showing symptoms of FASD and the condition is the most common non-genetic cause of learning disability in the UK, affecting one in 1000 babies.

Anne continued: “Alcohol is dangerous to expectant mothers and can impact on the child. We don’t know exactly how much alcohol a mother needs to consume to cause the disorder so the NHS recommends pregnant mothers don’t drink.

“We are here for the mothers as well as the babies and won’t judge, so urge honesty with drug and alcohol use. We only have the family’s best interests at heart.”