Program sets drug-dependent babies, moms on path to recovery

Women & Infants Hospital in Providence. (photo: Care New England)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A groundbreaking new program at Women & Infants Hospital is helping drug-dependent babies and their mothers chart a better road to recovery.

The hospital’s family-centered model allows mothers to stay and bond with their newborn babies, even after the mother is discharged.

Lyndsey Julius’ son, Deklan, was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, last fall. NAS is a condition triggered by exposure to opioids or other addictive drugs while in the womb. Julius was being treated with methadone during her pregnancy to overcome an addition to opioids.

“It was 10 years I was on Percocet, and then it was heroin,” she explained. “I did that for about six months and then it was like, ‘this is crazy. I need help.'”

“I was on the methadone throughout my pregnancy and they prepared me for it, telling me it was one hundred percent safe for the baby,” Julius continued. “It was safer than trying to stop medication at that point. It could have made me lose the baby.”

Julius said her son began experiencing withdrawal symptoms from day one.

“He was sneezing and yawning,” she recalled. “It was really hard. I felt really guilty. It was horrible and heartbreaking because I know what it feels like.”

But even after she was discharged, Julius was able to stay by Deklan’s side in one of five rooms earmarked for mothers who have babies with NAS.

“I was dying to bring him home. I hated that I had to stay with him,” said Julius. “It was nice, though, because they were monitoring him so well. He wasn’t miserable. They were right on top of it.”

Deklan was monitored by hospital staff around the clock while his mother was there to bond with and comfort him. She was also involved in helping doctors and nurses assess her child’s progress.

“While the babies are in the rooms with the mothers, our nurses will go in there and ask the mom, ‘So, what do you think of the score here?’” explained Dr. Adam Czynski, Medical Director of the Newborn Nursery Service at Women & Infants. “And we’ll ask them specific questions to get that information, but we are forming the score by what the mother is telling us.”

In just 10 months since the family-centered model was launched, Women & Infants has already seen a noticeable drop in the length of stay for babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

“Before we started this, our average stay was around 21 days,” Dr. Czynski added. “We’ve now dropped that to 18 days, just by promoting this mother baby bonding and being supportive and transferring the care back to mom.”

As the program approaches the end of its first full year, Women & Infants says it is treating an average of seven babies with NAS per month.