Thomas Memorial takes Baby Steps to help babies suffering from withdrawal

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A new unit is now open at Thomas Memorial Hospital to treat the youngest victims of the opioid crisis. Baby Steps will help infants who are going through withdrawal because of drugs their mothers took while pregnant with them.

Baby Steps unit opens at Thomas Memorial Hospital.

"Those babies are born with a specific set of symptoms, many of them, called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)," Newborn Clinical Coordinator Jill Ennis said. "They require special handling, very careful handling."

That includes screech-like cries, clawing at their faces and squirming. The withdrawal process is very painful, and the new unit aims to make it as easy as possible for the children who had no choice in their addiction.

"We wanted to provide an environment for them that is calm, very low stimulus, low lighting and low noise levels," Ennis said. "We introduce that over time as the babies are going through treatment."

Thomas Memorial delivers between 900 and 1,100 babies per year. About 13 percent of those are diagnosed with NAS.

The eight suites in the Baby Steps unit allow the entire family to be educated while the baby is treated. A typical stay is two to three weeks long.

"We are promoting the family relationship," Ennis said. "We want to heal a family relationship. We want to get these families on the road to recovery, provide them some support, education and resources for once they are discharged home."

Ennis said the NICU is too loud and over stimulating for babies with NAS. The suites in the Baby Steps unit can black out and have limited sound. A rocking chair and special swing are also included in each room to help calm the infants.

The Thomas Health Foundation raised $250,000 for the unit to be constructed. That includes selling the naming rights to three of the 10 rooms in the unit.