UNMH finds success in ‘Eat, Sleep, Console’ method for babies going through withdrawal

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Opioids are touching every segment of New Mexico’s population, including expectant mothers.

“When an individual uses opiates, which could be fentanyl, heroin, or other substances, it could be prescribed, it could be illicit. When they use those substances, it does cross the placenta,” explained Dr. Jessie Maxwell.  

Jessie Maxwell works in UNM Hospital’s Pediatrics Unit. She says between 2016 and 2019, 48,000 babies in New Mexico alone were born with opioid exposure, and that number only continues to grow.

“With the high use of fentanyl over the last one to two years that’s increased dramatically, and it does continue to hit our population very hard,” said Maxwell.

UNM hospital joined a study through the National Institutes of Health focused on how best to provide care for infants that have opiate exposure during pregnancy. Historically, health care professionals have used the Finnegan, a 19-point scale that assesses how the infant is doing and focuses on medication therapy.

“The parents would be standing by, not necessarily directly involved, and anxiously awaiting to see what that score was,” said Maxwell.

This study focused on the newer “Eat, Sleep, Console” approach. It focuses strictly on whether the infant is able to do what they should be able to do to function.

“So can they eat, can they sleep, and can they console reasonably,” explained Maxwell. “We’re empowering those parents to be involved in the care of their infant. They’re able to help with the feeding, help with the consoling, do skin-to-skin and close bonding and so it’s really empowering the families to be involved and engaged.”

UNM was among 26 other hospitals nationwide in this study. Researchers enrolled more than 1,300 babies and have seen positive results.

“With the Eat, Sleep, Console approach we have decreased the length of hospital stay by almost one week with this approach. We’ve also been able to decrease the need for medication by 66%,” said Maxwell. “We are very excited to see these results.”

UNM hospital is now using the “Eat, Sleep, Console” approach in all of its units that provide care for infants. They help babies who have been exposed to both prescribed and illicit opioids.

Doctors do want to take this approach statewide. Their plan is to share this training with all providers across the state, so all infants get the best possible care.