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Drug-using Women Should Breastfeed


Wednesday, March 04, 2009 – New mothers receiving methadone to treat opiate addictions should breastfeed their babies to lessen the newborns’ withdrawal symptoms, a report has shown.

Research published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology showed children  born to 205 out of 450 women receiving methadone required phtamacological treatment for neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), or baby withdrawals.

Study authors found that when women breastfeed their babies for more than 72 hours there was a significantly reduced odds of the infants receivig treatment for NAS.

Apart from the benefits of breast milk and the way breastfeeding soothes agitated babies, researchers note that small traces of the drugs taken by the mother find their way into the breats milk, thus lessening the baby’s withdrawal symptoms.

Based on their findings, researchers recommend that drug-misusing mothers should be encoureged to breastfeed their babies.

Dr. Helen Mactier, a consultant neonatologist who headed the study, said: “Drug misuse in pregnancy is an emotive issue – prescription of substitute methadone stabilies lifestyle and reduces the incidence of preterm birth but it does not prevent ongoing drug misuse and is commonly associated with neonatal abstinence syndrome.”  (I DO NOT agree!!)

“Infants born to misusing mothers tend to be born a bit early, and to be small, with correspondingly low intrauterine head growth.”

“Our research has shown that breastfeeding seems to protect against the risk of developing neonatal abstinence syndrome, with the likelihood of receiving treatment halved in those infants who breastfed for more than three days.”

“Our advice is for pregnan drug misusing women to be maintained on the lowest dose of methadone compatible with stability and for them to be encouraged and supported to breastfeed.”

The research also shows that women taking methadone are more likely to have children prone to NAS.

“This will help inform futire policy on the treatment of pregnant women blighted by substance misuse,” commented Professor Philip Steer, BJOG editor-in-chief.

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