Healthy living

Will my baby experience withdrawal?

It is not possible to tell if your baby will experience withdrawal. This is because the amount of drugs or alcohol you have taken is only one of many factors that contributes to withdrawal and when it starts. Other factors include:

  • the drugs or medications you used
  • how it was taken and how often
  • your baby’s health and environment
  • your general health and nutrition during pregnancy.

When do symptoms start?

  • Most babies who experience withdrawal show signs in the first 24 to 72 hours after birth.
  • Some babies experience a late withdrawal up to 2 weeks after the birth.

Signs and symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms in your baby can include:

  • high pitched cry
  • irritability
  • tremors (shaking) and jittering
  • difficulty sleeping or settling
  • stuffy nose
  • sneezing
  • difficulty feeding due to sucking problems
  • tense (tight) arms, legs and back
  • poor weight gain
  • vomiting and/or diarrhoea
  • increased breathing rate
  • skin irritation.

How do I know if my baby has withdrawal?

Your baby’s midwives will use a special chart to check your baby for signs and symptoms of withdrawal every 4 hours. The chart will also help them work out how severe your baby’s symptoms are.

Your doctor will be advised if your baby’s score is repeatedly high. Your baby may then be transferred to a special care nursery and/or given medication.

How long will the withdrawal last?

How long your baby’s withdrawal symptoms last can depend on the quality, amount and combination of drugs you used while pregnant, for example:

  • methadone and heroin
  • methadone, heroin and benzodiazepines
  • buprenorphine and heroin
  • amphetamines.

Withdrawal can last from 1 week to 6 months.

Where to get help

Women and Newborn Drug and Alcohol Service

The Women and Newborn Drug and Alcohol Service (WANDAS) is a specialist team based at King Edward Memorial Hospital that cares for pregnant women experiencing drug and alcohol issues.

The WANDAS team is made up of a number of health professionals, including:

  • doctors
  • midwives
  • social workers
  • dietitians
  • mental health professionals.

WANDAS will help you and your baby become and stay as healthy as possible during your pregnancy.

  • Phone: (08) 9340 1582 or 0414 892 753

Women and Newborn Drug and Alcohol Service

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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