What is the focus of clinical history in the evaluation of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS)?

Updated: Dec 20, 2017
  • Author: Ashraf H Hamdan, MD, MBBCh, MSc, MRCP, FAAP; Chief Editor: Santina A Zanelli, MD  more...
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When assessing potential neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), the most reliable method of determining the extent of drug use in pregnancy is maternal history as part of routine antenatal assessment, with a structured interview providing a greater yield than an informal interview.

The amount of information obtained from the mother about prenatal drug exposure widely varies and may not be reliable. How the mother is questioned and the specificity of the questions are the most important factors. Maternal interviews have been reported to be the least sensitive method of identifying drug use in pregnancy when compared with maternal hair and meconium drug testing. Maternal self-report was found to underestimate in utero drug exposure by as much as 44% when compared with data from meconium analyses. [36]

Despite concerted efforts by health care professionals to promote prenatal care, the mother may not have received such care and the delivery hospitalization may be the only opportunity to elicit information on the nature and extent of the infant's in utero exposure to drugs and alcohol. The mother's concern for her infant's health may encourage valid responses; conversely, fear of legal reprisals or loss of custody of the infant may cause the mother to deny drug use.

The Committee on Substance Abuse of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends obtaining a comprehensive medical and psychological history that includes specific information regarding maternal drug use as part of every newborn evaluation. [37]

The relationship between maternal cocaine use and placental abruption is well established. Therefore, a perinatal history of abruption should alert the medical caretaker that prenatal exposure to cocaine is a possibility.

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