NASHVILLE, TENN. – When newborns withdrawing from opioids stay with their mothers after delivery instead of going to the NICU, they are far less likely to receive morphine and other drugs and leave the hospital days sooner; they also are more likely to go home with their mother, a meta-analysis showed.
The analysis likely is the first to pool results from studies of rooming-in for infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). A strong case has been building in the literature for several years that newborns do better with rooming-in, instead of the traditional approach for NAS – NICU housing and opioid dosing based on a symptom checklist.
“We found consistent emerging evidence that rooming-in is more effective than standard care in the NICU for infants with NAS. Based on these findings, we believe rooming-in should be established as the new evidence-based standard of care for this patient population,” said investigator Kanak Verma, a medical student at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H.
Rooming-in was associated with a 63% reduction in the need for pharmacotherapy, a decrease in hospital length of stay by more than 10 days, and a substantial, statistically significant decrease in cost from – in one study – a mean of almost $45,000 per NAS infant stay to just over $10,000.
“We were worried that by rooming-in we would be undertreating infants with NAS, and that they would be at increased risk for readmission, but there was no statistically significant increase in readmission rates for infants rooming in with their mothers,” Ms. Verma said at the Pediatric Hospital Medical annual meeting.
Infants also were more likely to go home with their mother or a family member. “Mothers who use opioid replacements have decreased ability to bond” with their infants. Rooming-in helps create that bond, and probably made discharge with a family member more likely, said coinvestigator Cassandra Rendon, also a Dartmouth medical student.
It’s unclear what exactly accounts for the better results, but “having a baby stay with [its] mom creates an opportunity for a lot of things that we know are effective,” including skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding, and involvement of mothers in the care and monitoring of their infants, Ms. Rendon said.
Also, “we know that in babies with NAS, a low-stimulation environment is ideal,” Ms. Verma said at the meeting, sponsored by the Society of Hospital Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Academic Pediatric Association. That’s a challenge in a busy NICU, but “we can create that in an isolated room with just the mother,” she added.
At least one of the studies used a new, more holistic approach to assess the need for pharmacologic management in NAS. Symptom scores still are considered, but how well the infant is eating, sleeping, and able to be consoled are considered as well. With the traditional symptom checklist, “we end up just treating the number, instead of treating the baby. What Dartmouth and other facilities are doing is looking at” how well the baby is doing overall, Ms. Rendon said.
If the baby is otherwise doing well, providers are less likely to give opioids for a little jitteriness or sweating. The decreased use of opioids leads, in turn, to shorter hospital stays.
Dartmouth is collaborating with Yale University in New Haven , Conn., and the Boston Medical Center to integrate the new treatment model into standard practice. For other centers interested in doing the same, Ms. Verma noted that nursery staff buy-in is essential. Nurses and others have to be comfortable “taking these patients out of the NICU” and treating them in a new way.
The investigators had no relevant financial disclosures.