Alternative Treatments Ease Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is the withdrawal from drugs in a newborn infant. This is a challenging time when the baby is unable to organize a feeding and breathing rhythm and cries unconsolably. They suffer nausea, diarrhea, headaches, tremors and other disturbances (1). They tend to be unable to sleep due to the withdrawal pains. A hospital in New Hampshire began experimenting with alternative methods in order to cope with the increased rate of NAS due to the opioid epidemic (28% increase from last year). In support groups parents were advised to put the baby down and leave because nothing works to soothe their constant cries (1). This is clearly a serious issue for the neurological imprinting that occurs in traumatic times like this. Hospitals have been resorting to administering morphine to the infants and slowly withdrawing them. The use of these "alternative" modalities is important to reduce the need for giving morphine to newborns and has been very promising.

Concord Hospital has been incorporating Reiki treatments, aromatherapy and soothing harp music to ease suffering in neonatal units. They found that lavender had no effect on crying infants, but peppermint essential oil was able to stop a crying baby an allow him to relax and fall asleep (2). Coincidentally peppermint has anti-emetic and pain relieving properties and also soothes the digestive system, which coincides with the withdrawal symptoms. Additionally a study done to assess the safety of Reiki on premature NAS infants found no adverse effects or reactions, with a clinically significant reduction in heart rate of infants - 138 to 130 bpm (2). Elevated heart rate is associates with the sensation of pain/suffering, therefore its decrease gives insight to pain relieving properties of Reiki. The fact that no adverse events were reported signals a green light to move forward with other research in this area.

Plant extracts, and energy modalities have a tremendous potential as low risk, effective treatments for a variety of complaints. As plants have their own complex systems agains bacteria and viruses, as well as hundreds of phytonutrients, it is no surprise that their extracts have the power to assist humans in boosting wellbeing . Reiki also can be experienced during a session and while science has not had a way to measure its influence or mode of action, most people will admit to feeling the energy or feeling improvement after a session.


1. "Caregivers find new ways to ease infant withdrawal. Shawne K. Wickham, New Hampshire Sunday News, April 25th 2015.

2. "Reiki Safe for Newborns at Risk for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome" Radziewicz et al., Massage Magazine August 2018.

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