Skip to Content

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome


Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) develops when a baby is no longer exposed to a drug his mother used during pregnancy. Examples include heroin, codeine, and oxycodone. The baby is affected by the drug while he is in the womb and becomes dependent on it. When he is born, he is still dependent on the drug. He may also become dependent on medicines he is given for sedation or pain after he is born. The sudden lack of the drug causes withdrawal symptoms.


Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your baby is not breathing or is having trouble breathing.
  • Your baby's skin or nails are blue.
  • Your baby is limp and does not respond.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • Your baby is limp and does not respond.

Contact your baby's healthcare provider if:

  • Your baby is fussy or cries for long periods, and he cannot be comforted.
  • Your baby breastfeeds less often or drinks less formula than usual, or he has feeding problems.
  • You have questions or concerns about your baby's condition or care.


  • Medicines may be given to help your baby go through withdrawal. He may only be given enough medicine to last until his first follow-up visit. It is very important to give all medicines exactly as directed.
  • Give your child's medicine as directed. Call your child's healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him if your child is allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs your child takes. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why they are taken. Bring the list or the medicines in their containers to follow-up visits. Carry your child's medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Ask about safe ways to comfort your baby:

Your baby may cry for long periods without stopping. This can be frustrating, but never shake a baby to make him stop crying. Shaking can cause serious brain damage. You may need to put your baby in a safe place and take a break from the crying. Ask your healthcare provider for other safe ways to handle crying.

Follow up with your baby's healthcare provider as directed:

You will need to bring your baby in for follow-up visits often at first. Your baby's healthcare provider will check that he is eating and sleeping well. Your child will need ongoing care and tests as he gets older. His healthcare provider will check for developmental or physical delays or problems. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Risks of NAS:

Your baby may be born smaller or weigh less than expected. His risk for apnea (periods of not breathing) or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) may be increased. As he gets older, he may have trouble in school or have attention or behavior problems.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.