While healthcare workers in certain hospitals are trained to spot the signs of mothers and babies with addiction issues, many problem drug users go undetected – and so too does their baby’s suffering.
Neonatologist Dr Ju Lee Oei from Sydney’s Royal Women’s Hospital has heard of affected babies described by unknowing admirers as well-behaved. Credit: The Feed
It’s estimated as many as six thousand children will be born every year after being prenatally exposed to substance use.
‘It will affect me till the day I die’
Since learning that her son, Bryce, was exposed to harmful substances during pregnancy, Dr Blythe has become an activist for greater public awareness and medical research in this space.
“I believe what I’ve gone through will affect me to the day I die. It’ll affect everything I do. Every career I have. Every person I encounter. It won’t go away. It never will.”
Bryce says he doesn’t feel ashamed but hopes for less judgement from others.
Few babies who come into the world pre-exposed to harmful substances are lucky to receive the level of support Bryce has enjoyed; including a mum who has developed a training program for carers of children in his situation.
“A lot of these babies struggle through school and high school, some of them end up homeless, many of them end up incarcerated,” says Dr Blythe.
‘Without funding, we’ll be forever in the dark’
While 1.5 per cent of women in Australia admit to problematic drug use during their pregnancy, data from other studies suggest that the true number of pregnancies where illicit substances, alcohol, nicotine, or prescription medication use is a complicating factor could be as high as 5 per cent.
Dr Stacy Blythe (left) sits with her son Bryce. Dr Blythe has become an activist for greater public awareness and medical research on drug-affected babies.
“Even if the baby looks amazingly well, healthy, not withdrawing and doing everything right in the baby period, these are certainly children that deserve intense scrutiny when they grow up,” Dr Oei.
The reality of this critically under-researched issue is that pre-exposure to meth is often not apparent until a child reaches school age when their teacher might be the first to detect a learning disability.
It’s estimated as many as six thousand children will be born every year after being prenatally exposed to substance use. Credit: The Feed
By this time, “the boat has sailed and whatever intervention you can give a child will be less effective,” says Dr Oei.
“Without funding for research, we will be forever in the dark about this problem,” says Dr Oei.