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Love to hold babies? You can help the tiniest victims of the opioid crisis

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Anna O'Neil - published on 07/24/17

Many drug addicted infants need help -- check your local hospital.

I live in the city, and there have been billboards popping up everywhere reminding people that opioid addiction can kill you, and how you can get help if you’re addicted. CNN reports that “Opioid addiction rates skyrocket to nearly 500 percent in past 7 years.” It’s not just opioids, but illicit drug use of all kinds is growing fast, and it’s not just the addicted that are the victims of the epidemic. Sometimes, it’s their newborn babies, too.

When a pregnant woman takes certain drugs, her unborn baby can get dependent on them, essentially sharing the physical addiction. When the baby is born, his supply is cut off, and he goes through extremely painful withdrawal, called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, which can last from weeks to months. The symptoms can include seizures, vomiting, poor weight gain, constant crying, and difficulty sleeping. It’s a nightmare of a way to come into the world. Hospitals, especially in rural areas, where they are less used to dealing with this problem, are struggling to keep up with the babies’ needs.

Luckily, though, there’s one particularly simple treatment that can really help: skin-to-skin contact, sometimes called Kangaroo Care. Essentially, just holding a baby, right up against your skin, has real physical effects on the baby, and can help him to thrive. “Skin-to-skin holding stabilizes heart and respiratory rates, improves oxygen saturation rates, better regulates an infant’s body temperature, and conserves a baby’s calories.”

It seems like such a little thing, but it makes a huge difference in a baby’s process of recovery. The best part is that you don’t have to be an expert to give an infant this gift of your body. Hospitals around the country are responding to the Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome crisis by starting programs where people can volunteer to hold these babies, so they get as much of these benefits as possible, since the mother may not be available or able to hold the baby all day long.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to volunteer, I can’t think of a better cause. You can call your local hospital to see what volunteering opportunities they have available. These babies have such a simple human need–just to feel another person’s body, to help them physically self-regulate, to help them feel secure, and to get them through what may be one of the hardest times in their lives. 

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