Experiences of mothers of infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome in the neonatal intensive care unit

J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. May-Jun 2014;43(3):318-29. doi: 10.1111/1552-6909.12306. Epub 2014 Apr 22.


Objective: To describe the experiences of mothers of infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Design: Qualitative description.

Setting: We recruited participants from community-based, out-patient, addiction treatment facilities in a large urban city in the southwestern region of the United States.

Participants: A convenience sample of 15 Hispanic, substance addicted mothers of infants with NAS participated.

Methods: We conducted semistructured, individual, interviews and analyzed the data using qualitative content analysis. First, we analyzed the data independently and then discussed the themes until a consensus was reached.

Results: We identified four themes: (a) understanding addiction, (b) watching the infant withdraw, (c) judging, and (d) trusting the nurses. The participants felt there was a lack of understanding concerning addiction that was particularly noted when interacting with the nurses. They shared their feelings of guilt and shame when observing their infants withdrawing. The participants felt judged by the nurses for having used illicit drugs during pregnancy. Feeling judged interfered with the participants' ability to trust the nurses.

Conclusion: These findings provide nurses with a better understanding of the experiences of mothers who have addiction problems and may lead to more customized nursing care for this high-risk population of mothers and their infants.

Keywords: mothering; neonatal abstinence syndrome; neonatal intensive care unit; substance addiction.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Critical Care / methods
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Infant Care / methods*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects
  • Mother-Child Relations / psychology*
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome / nursing
  • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome / psychology
  • Neonatal Nursing / methods
  • Pregnancy
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sampling Studies
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology