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CARE Plus program hopes to teach new mothers importance of attachment

Sleeping baby

A new program at Indiana University School of Medicine hopes to help mothers of babies born addicted to opioids the importance of bonding to help in their recovery process.

“There is evidence to show that maternal-infant attachment can help babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome improve faster,” said Joanna Chambers, MD, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry with IU School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry. In 2014, more than 600 infants in Indiana were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a condition that develops when a mother struggles with opioid dependence during pregnancy. Through CARE Plus, a therapist and community health worker will spend time with mothers to teach them how to attach with their babies.

“In the first stages of life, it’s really important for the newborns to be held, have skin-to-skin contact and be soothed by mom,” said Dr. Chambers. “There’s also this myth that you can spoil a baby. Some mothers may think they shouldn’t hold their baby when they cry, because they might spoil them, but that’s not true.”

Dr. Chambers says when babies develop a secure attachment with their mothers in the first year of life, the children end up happier and healthier later in life.  There is some evidence that opioids interfere with the attachment process. Through this study, the CARE Plus team hopes to reach out to opioid-dependent mothers while they’re still in the hospital to teach them the importance of attachment to their new baby.

“Sometimes the therapist will even model for the mom how to hold their baby and have skin-to-skin contact,” said Dr. Chambers. “They’ll work with mom and encourage mom to hold and be with the baby and that helps a lot.”

Once mom and baby are ready to leave the hospital, the team continues to work with them through home visits. The community health worker will keep training parents to attach to their babies while at home and help parents get any care they might need for themselves.

“Moms need to soothe themselves, too, to properly care for their babies,” said Dr. Chambers. “Often these moms are struggling with soothing themselves, so the community health worker will encourage them to seek the treatment they need.”

The team will offer this program to any mom who has a baby with neonatal abstinence syndrome at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

“We want moms to see this as a life change to get the treatment that she needs to be healthy,” said Dr. Chambers, “and we want babies to grow up healthy in all ways—physically, mentally, socially and more.”

Learn more about the CARE Plus program at IU School of Medicine.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Christina Griffiths

Christina is the media relations specialist for the IU School of Medicine Dean's Office of Strategic Communications.