Neonatal drug withdrawal occurs when a baby who has been exposed to drugs in the womb develops withdrawal symptoms. This occurs because the baby is no longer exposed to the drug the mother was taking. This condition can be caused by medicines, alcohol, and illegal drugs. It can take weeks to months for a baby to fully withdraw from a drug. Without treatment, this can be a life-threatening condition. If you used drugs during your pregnancy, make sure to tell your doctor right away. Your baby can then be tested and treated as soon as she is born.

Blood Traveling Through Mother's Placenta to Baby

baby fetus placenta
Drugs and alcohol travel through this path from mother to baby.
© 2011 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


This condition is caused when a woman uses drugs and/or alcohol while pregnant. Things that cause this condition include:

  • Heroin
  • Methadone
  • Amphetamines
  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Alcohol
  • Opiates
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Barbiturates
  • Antidepressants

Risk Factors

These factors increase your baby’s chances of developing this condition. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:

  • Drug]]> or ]]>alcohol]]> abuse while pregnant
  • Drug use or dependency



Depending on the type and amount of drug exposure, symptoms can develop within hours to days after birth. If your baby has any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to this condition. They may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if your baby has any of these symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Poor feeding
  • Difficulty sucking
  • Diarrhea]]>
  • Vomiting
  • High-pitched cry
  • Crying a lot
  • Sweating
  • Fast breathing
  • Shaking
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Yawning
  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose (hard to breath through the nose)
  • Increased muscle tone
  • Fever
  • Seizures



The doctor will check your baby based on her symptoms and your medical and drug history. To diagnose your baby correctly, the doctor needs to know what drug you took during pregnancy, how much was taken, and how often. The doctor will also do a physical exam on your baby. Tests may include urine tests, hair or stool tests, blood tests, and x-rays]]> .


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for your baby. Treatment options include the following:

Close Monitoring

Your baby may need to stay in the hospital so that he can be closely monitored. Your baby may be watched for:

  • Signs of seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Other serious withdrawal symptoms


Your baby may be given medicines to help during withdrawal. Medicines will differ based on the drug your baby is withdrawing from.

Supportive Care

Your baby may need IV fluids (given through a needle), oxygen, high-calorie formula, tube-feeding, or other support as he recovers.

Follow your doctor's instructions .


To help reduce your baby‘s chances of getting this condition, take the following steps:

  • Stop taking drugs before becoming pregnant or as soon as you learn you are pregnant.
  • Once pregnant, talk to your doctor about any drugs you have taken, and get regular prenatal care.
  • Seek treatment for drug abuse problems before becoming pregnant.