Babies born to drug-addicted mothers have significant developmental and vision problems at six months old, a Scottish study has found
The Early Development Journal study of 80 babies found they performed less well on tests for social interaction, co-ordination and motor skills. Previous research had suggested babies born to mothers who use drugs while pregnant have smaller head circumference, suggestive of potential neurodevelopmental problems. In the new study babies who had been exposed to drugs were found to have smaller heads at birth than those born to mothers who were not drug-dependant, but by six months no size difference could be found. These children however were found to have significantly lower scores across the board for a range of developmental tests with 40% failing eye tests at six months due to poor vision or squints caused by a condition called nystagmus.
Non responsive environments
A spokesman for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has suggested that the study does not account for the impact of being raised in "non-responsive environments" and that some of the poor test results may simply have been due to bad parenting or prolonged stays in hospital after birth.
Study leader, Dr Helen Mactier, a Glasgow based paediatrician points out that the study is unique due to the six month timescale and level of detail it analysed in relation mothers drug use. Through interviews, urine samples and tests on the babies' first stool, they found that as well as methadone, most babies in the study had also been exposed to opiates, benzodiazepines, cannabis and in some cases stimulants. About half the babies had received also morphine as newborns to help treat them for symptoms of drug withdrawal.
Dr Mactier said the children should be closely monitored as a matter of routine, but that was not really happening at the moment.
"If you have a child who presents at school who is socially disadvantaged and on top of that has poor vision, their learning is going to be even more compromised," she concluded.
Article first appeared on BBC online