New approach to care helps newborns battling opioid withdrawal recover faster

New research shows that babies born to mothers who used opioids recover more quickly when parents are involved in their care and offer skin-to-skin contact, swaddling and a quiet environment. Known as the “Eat, Sleep, Console” approach, this method encourages nurses to work with mothers to evaluate the most effective calming techniques for the baby. This approach also evaluates the baby’s environment to reduce noise and brightness.

During the study, about 5,000 nurses were trained on this new approach. Researchers then evaluated the care of 1300 newborns at 26 U.S. hospitals. Some of them were born before the training, and others were taken care of using “Eat, Sleep, Console.” The research showed that newborns were ready to go home around a week earlier and didn’t need as many opioid medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms if they were given the new type of care.

The National Institutes of Health funded the study to address the opioid addiction crisis in the United States, which sees at least one newborn diagnosed with opioid withdrawal every 24 minutes. According to the U.S. Joint Economic Committee, opioid-related costs rose to nearly $1.5 trillion in 2020, with a $487 billion increase from 2019.

“One of the great strengths of the study is its geographic diversity,” Dr. Diana Bianchi told the Associated Press. “We’ve had newborns enrolled from sites as varied as Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Kansas City, Missouri, and Spartanburg, South Carolina.” Bianchi also said that many U.S. hospitals have now adopted this new approach.