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Babies with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome More Likely to be Born with Smaller Heads

12/10/2018

Babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) face myriad neurological and developmental issues. New research in the January 2019 issue of Pediatrics, “Neonatal Head Circumference in Newborns with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome,” published online Dec. 10, finds these infants are more likely to be born with a head circumference below the 10th percentile, which may harm their long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes. The researchers looked at 858 infants as part of a prospective study. Half of the infants were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, half were not. Of those born with the syndrome, the majority were born to mothers undergoing medication-assisted treatment with methadone or buprenorphine, which is the recommended treatment option for opioid use disorder during pregnancy. Study authors found infants born with NAS had significantly smaller head circumferences, a decrease of nearly 1 cm. Among newborns with NAS, more than 30 percent had a head circumference at or below the 10th percentile, compared to 11.9 percent of infants in the control group. The researchers conclude that smaller head sizes relate to smaller brain volume which could increase the risk that these babies will experience neurological and developmental delays as they grow up.

Editor’s note: A related commentary, “Fetal Opioid Exposure and Smaller Birth Head Circumference: Cause for Concern?” will also be published in this issue of Pediatrics. 

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org and follow us on Twitter @AmerAcadPeds