Rooming-in with Mum Eases Transition for Drug-exposed Newborns

Allowing women dependent on heroin or methadone to keep their newborns with them immediately after birth is better for baby and mother, and may reverse thinking about current standards of care, says a group of researchers at the University of British Columbia and the Children’s and Women’s Health Centre of British Columbia.

The study looked at the experiences of 106 mothers dependent on heroin or methadone and their babies over a 14-month period. Researchers found that when babies stayed with mothers, or “roomed-in,” the newborns were less likely to require treatment for withdrawal symptoms, spent less time in hospital and were more likely to be discharged home with their mothers rather than be taken into care.

Current standard of care at most institutions in Canada involves babies being separated from mothers and placed in a quiet and dimly lit intensive care nursery to observe and treat symptoms of withdrawal from narcotics.

The research was published recently in Canadian Family Physician.

“While separation and sensory deprivation have not been shown to independently reduce severity of symptoms associated with newborn withdrawal, we do know that mother-baby bonding prepares mothers to be nurturing parents. It also gives babies a positive first bonding experience that hardwires them emotionally, so they can develop successful closely bonded relationships throughout their life,” says Dr. Ron Abrahams, first author on the paper and a clinical professor in the Dept. of Family Practice at UBC. He is the Medical Director of Perinatal Addictions at BC Women’s Hospital.

Between 48-94 per cent of infants exposed to opiates in utero develop clinical signs of withdrawal usually within 72 hours. Symptoms that include diarrhea, vomiting and jitteriness, are treated with gradually decreasing doses of morphine.

Researchers studied three groups of women including a group of 32 women known to have used heroin or methadone during pregnancy, who roomed-in for the delivery and immediate post-natal period and had access to specialized addiction services. The group was compared with an historical group of 38 mothers who used heroin or methadone and received standard nursery care; and a concurrent group of 36 mothers who used heroin or methadone, received standard nursery care but had no access to specialized addiction services.

The study can be found at

Note to editors: A mother who has participated in the rooming-in program is available for interviews.

BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre, an agency of the Provincial Health
Services Authority, provides services for pregnant women, newborns and
women with specialized health needs from across the province.  BC
Women’s is an academic health centre affiliated with the University of
British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, and the Women’s Health

Research Institute. For more information, please visit

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