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Neonatal Drug Withdrawal

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Neonatal Drug Withdrawal

(Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome)


Neonatal drug withdrawal is when a baby who has been exposed to drugs in the womb has withdrawal symptoms. This happens because the baby is no longer exposed to the drug the mother was taking.

Blood Traveling Through Mother's Placenta to Baby.

Drugs and alcohol travel through this path from mother to baby.

baby fetus placentahttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=71377137baby_fetus_placenta.jpgbaby fetus placentaNULLjpgbaby fetus placentaNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\baby_fetus_placenta.jpgNULL92NULL2008-06-043774007137_535598Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


This problem can be caused when a pregnant woman uses:

  • Heroin
  • Methadone
  • Amphetamines
  • Cocaine
  • Alcohol
  • Opioids
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Barbiturates
  • Antidepressants

Risk Factors

Drug, medicine, or alcohol abuse when pregnant raises the risk of this problem in a baby.


Symptoms can happen within hours to days after birth. It depends on the type and amount of drug used.

Problems may be:

  • Fussiness
  • Stiff muscles
  • Seizures
  • Poor feeding
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Yawning
  • Problems sleeping
  • Fever
  • Sneezing
  • Sweating
  • Crying a lot
  • Problems breathing


The doctor will check the baby based on their symptoms and the mother's health and drug history. A physical exam will be done.

The baby will be tested for signs of drugs. This may be done with urine, umbilical cord, blood, hair, and stool testing.


It can take weeks to months for a drug to leave a baby's body. Medicine may be given to help ease problems. The overall goals of treatment are to:

  • Monitor the baby for signs of problems, such as seizures
  • Provide support, such as fluids, oxygen, and special feedings


A mother can prevent this health problem by not using drugs during pregnancy.





  • Hudak ML, Tan RC, et al. Neonatal drug withdrawal. Pediatrics. 2012 Feb;129(2):e540-e560.
  • Neonatal opioid withdrawal. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/neonatal-opioid-withdrawal.


  • Nicole S. Meregian, PA
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.