Ten babies born in Merseyside last year were affected by their mothers’ drug habits, the ECHO can reveal.
And while details are not given for specific cases the drugs these babies are born addicted to can include heroin, crack cocaine and methadone.
Exclusive figures from the NHS have revealed the number of babies who were born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in 2017-18, which includes babies born addicted to drugs because of their mother’s drug use, and those suffering from issues such as low birth weight and developmental problems.
Similar figures were also found in 2016-17 when 10 newborns were also recorded as being affected by maternal drug addiction.
Head of Nursing at Addaction Jane Simons said: “When mothers use substances during pregnancy they can cross the placenta and cause harm to the unborn baby.
“Mothers who use substances during pregnancy often experience overwhelming guilt. Punishing them only serves to impact their relationship with the developing baby and can prevent them from accessing help.
“The earlier parents seek support the more positive the results are for both the mother and the baby. That’s why creating a non judgemental environment is vital to reducing harm.”
“Engaging drug misusing partners in treatment has also been shown to help mothers reduce their substance use.
“These statistics, while worrying, also need to be considered in context. Smoking cigarettes during pregnancy is the leading preventable cause of pregnancy-related morbidity and mortality. And alcohol is the leading preventable cause of developmental and intellectual disabilities.
“Pregnant women who use substances deserve empathy, compassion and care not punishment or isolation. We’d like to see more joined up maternity care for the women who need it.”
What figures look like in Merseyside
The number of babies born with NAS in Merseyside may be slightly higher or lower than 10 as the figure is rounded to the nearest five.
But nationally, more than 1,000 babies are born with NAS every year.
Around four in every five have what doctors call “neonatal withdrawal symptoms” – meaning they have developed a physical dependency on the drug and essentially have to go cold turkey.
Some symptoms of withdrawal that babies have to endure include fever, vomiting and diarrhoea, as well as uncontrollable trembling and blotchy skin.
In some cases a newborn may have to be given opiates to wean them off drugs such as heroin.
Across England, 1,162 babies were born affected by their mothers’ drug use in 2017-18 alone.
In many cases these babies would be taken into care – from as young as five days old – but some experts believe the outcomes for both mum and baby are much better if they are kept together.
Trevi House is a Plymouth-based charity that allows children with mums experiencing drug or alcohol addiction the chance to remain with them.
CEO of Trevi House Hannah Shead said: “As a society we’re getting it wrong when we take away these babies from their mothers.
“In many cases these women have underlying trauma, don’t have a robust support network and are vulnerable to domestic abuse. When their baby is removed from their care they quickly relapse into drug use.
“They can often become stuck in a cycle, with the same women seeing a high number of repeat pregnancies and removals.
“From our experience, it’s really clear that it is possible to keep mothers and babies together, and this leads to better outcomes for both.
“Around 95% of women who come to us with their babies manage to get through drug detox. And this high success rate is because they have their baby with them.
“It is also better for the child to be with their mother rather than in foster care. Babies become attached to their mothers before they are even born, so avoiding separation is important.
“Of course, we will only keep mother and baby together where it is safe to do so, and we always do a thorough assessment to make sure this is the case.
“Unfortunately, the type of support we offer is really patchy, and there’s a postcode lottery when it comes to getting the funding need.”
Those looking to refer to Trevi House for treatment can find out more at www.trevihouse.org or by calling 01752 255758.