Eat, sleep, console: how human touch is helping babies suffering from withdrawals

According to Stanford Children's Health, Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is a term for a group of problems a baby experiences when withdrawing from exposure to narcotics.  

St. Vincent Healthcare says they see 5 to 10 babies a month who are born to mothers with narcotic use.

"Jitteriness, really high-pitched crying, they can be really sweating, high temperatures, they can have diarrhea and vomiting, lots of symptoms," said Dr. Allison Rentz, NICU Medical Director at St. Vincent Healthcare. 

Eat, sleep, and console. That is the method of treatment St. Vincent Healthcare has been using for the past two years to treat babies in the NICU, expressing withdrawal symptoms. 

"So they suffer from over stimulation, sweating or other symptoms that are a symptom of the narcotic medicine leaving their body," said Dr. Rentz. 

Dr. Rentz said traditionally they would give these babies morphine to fight their symptoms, then taper off the medication slowly. Now, they're treating these symptoms with human touch. 

"For the last two years there's been a new program called "Eat, Sleep, Console," which really emphasizes using non pharmacological ways of treating the babies to try to get them through their symptoms and really emphasizing on human touch and interaction in a way that soothes the baby, without using medicines," said Dr. Rentz. 

St. Vincent Healthcare has dedicated a program trained to have the right balance of human touch for the newborns. 

"There's some specific training we do for these kinds of babies so that they aren't being bounced and rocked and stimulated, but they're feeling those secure boundaries and they're really getting that time where they feel safe and they feel the support that they like felt for 8, 9 months whatever term they were carried to by the womb," said Kristina Stinson, NICU Nurse Manager at St. Vincent Healthcare. 

Dr. Rentz said this treatment has decreased babies' length of stay, decreases the amount of morphine used, and they have improved outcomes. 

"I think it's just so fortunate that with all the advancements in medicine that we have is that we're finding that some of the best treatments are human touch and just giving babies that one on one time and it gets them home with their families sooner," said Stinson. 

But it takes more than just doctors and nurses, volunteers with St. Vincent Healthcare's Cuddler Program dedicate hours to console Billings newborns. 

"It's been amazing. We had a response from the community to volunteer to this cuddle program, like there were four hundred applicants for thirty spots and they're all here on a volunteer basis out of our community and its just been amazing," said Dr. Rentz. 

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