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Neonatal Drug Withdrawal

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Neonatal drug withdrawal occurs when a baby who has been exposed to drugs in the uterus 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 medications, 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, tell your doctor right away. Your baby can be tested and treated after delivery.

Blood Traveling Through Mother's Placenta to Baby
baby fetus placenta
Drugs and alcohol travel through this path from mother to baby.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


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

  • Heroin
  • Methadone
  • Amphetamines
  • Cocaine
  • Alcohol
  • Opioids
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Barbiturates
  • Antidepressants

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your baby's risk of having neonatal drug withdrawal include:

  • Drug , medication, 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.

Neonatal drug withdrawal may cause:

  • Irritability
  • Poor feeding
  • Difficulty sucking
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • High-pitched cry
  • Crying a lot
  • Sweating
  • Fast breathing
  • Shaking
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Yawning
  • Sneezing
  • Difficulty breathing through the nose
  • Increased muscle tone
  • Fever
  • Seizures


The doctor will examine your baby based on their 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. Your baby will have a physical exam.

Your baby's bodily fluids, tissues, and waste products will be tested. This can be done with:

  • Urine tests
  • Blood tests
  • Hair tests
  • Stool tests

Your baby's bodily structures may need to be viewed. This can be done with 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 to be closely monitored. Your baby may be watched for:

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


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

Supportive Care

Your baby may need IV fluids, oxygen, high-calorie formula, tube-feeding, or other support.


To help reduce your baby‘s chances of getting neonatal drug withdrawal:

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

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Kari Kassir, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2015 -
  • Update Date: 09/30/2013 -
  • Drug Abuse—National Institute on Drug Abuse

  • Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

  • Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

  • Toronto Area of Narcotics Anonymous

  • Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Improving treatment for drug-exposed infants. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US). 1993;Report No:(SMA)93-2011.

  • Davidson HA. Neonatal abstinence syndrome: an overview. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: Updated April 24, 2015. Accessed September 15, 2015.

  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Boston Children's Hospital website Available at: Accessed September 15, 2015.

  • Neonatal opioid withdrawal. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated September 8, 2015. Accessed September 15, 2015.