CENTRAL WISCONSIN (WAOW) — A new born baby is often the source of pride and joy for a mother. But for women who are addicted to substances, finding out she’s pregnant can bring fear and anxiety.
From 2009 to 2014, maternal opioid use tripled in Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. As of 2014, 16.4 in 1,000 women were pregnant and addicted to opioids.
Half of those women have babies affected by Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS), a condition in which a baby is born with withdrawal symptoms.
While the situation can seem dire to an expecting mom, experts say it can be an opportunity for that woman to start over.
“Rather than being the worst day ever because you’re using substances and you found out you’re pregnant, it can be an entire new chapter in someone’s life,” said Sheila Weix the Director of Substance Abuse Services at Marshfield Clinic.
Experts said that women who are addicted and pregnant find themselves facing many barriers, including the biases that others hold.
“Many people can look at someone who’s using substances and say ‘Yeah, I understand that’s a disease,'” Weix said. “But then they look at someone who’s pregnant and using substances and that same person will say ‘How could they possibly do that?'”
Dr. Richard Immler at North Central Health Care echoed Weix. He said it’s important that addiction be treated as “a medical problem rather than a moral failing.”
“I have yet to encounter a pregnant woman that did not care about their baby,” Dr. Immler said. “But the effects of the substance use disorder on their brain and the patterns it creates is just a horrible dilemma that they’re facing.”
There is also a fear for many women that their child will be taken away form them. Medical professional said there is a time and place for child protective services, but taking a child away from their mother is rarely the best solution.
Dr. Immler said that a mother having her child throughout the recovery process can actually be a source of motivation and encouragement.
Treatment and recovery can also look very different for pregnant women than it would for other patients.
For example, if an expecting mother is addicted to opioids, experts said it can actually be worse for the pregnancy if the mother quits right away. In some cases, quitting while pregnant can cause pre-term births. But, all situations are different and should be discussed with a medical professional.
Overall, experts encourage mothers to reach out for help and recognize the courage it can take.
“Women who get into prenatal care and who get into treatment tend to have better outcomes with their babies, even with the medication that they’re on versus not and just using meds from the street,” Weix said.