NICU Rockers program comforts newborns exposed to opioids

Three healthcare professionals standing around an incubator bed

With the current spotlight on our nation’s opioid epidemic, many are focusing on finding solutions to the crisis. While HCA Healthcare is helping combat the opioid epidemic as a whole, we are also committed to creating healthier tomorrows for our tiniest patients impacted by opioids, infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Read on to find out how the NICU Rockers program plays an important role in the non-pharmacologic management of NAS.

Three healthcare professionals standing around an incubator bed
Neonatal abstinence syndrome (also called NAS) is a group of conditions caused when a baby withdraws from certain drugs he’s exposed to in the womb before birth. Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) care for babies with NAS, who need additional support in their first days, weeks or months of life.

Every fifteen minutes, a baby is born in the United States suffering from opioid withdrawal, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Our colleagues, communities and volunteers are bringing hope and resilience to the opioid epidemic by breaking down the stigma around substance use disorders for mothers and their unborn babies. With initiatives in surgical, emergency and other care settings, we are ensuring that our patients have access to safer, more effective pain treatment, raising awareness about the dangers of opioid addiction and providing proper disposal of these medications.

Now, another spot in our commitment to curbing the tide of the opioid crisis: HCA Healthcare volunteers are providing warmth, safety and security to babies exposed to opioids in utero through the NICU Rockers program at affiliate TriStar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

What is neonatal abstinence syndrome?

Healthcare professional monitoring baby's vitals with stethoscope while woman looks on smiling
Dr. Ashraf Hamdan, neonatologist

“Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) or neonatal withdrawal syndrome is a group of problems that occur in a newborn who was exposed to addictive illegal or prescription drugs while in the mother’s womb,” says Dr. Ashraf Hamdan, a neonatologist at TriStar Centennial Medical Center.

According to the March of Dimes, symptoms of NAS most often appear in infants within the first three days after birth. While symptoms may appear and vary by infant, Dr. Hamdan outlines a few common signs and symptoms of NAS, including high-pitched cries, restlessness (with sleep duration less than 1-3 hours after feeding), hyperactive reflexes, jitteriness, tremors, myoclonic jerks (involuntary muscle jerk) and convulsions.

The solution to managing and treating NAS is not always medication. Physical touch can help aid in managing the infant’s withdrawal symptoms. “The first line of treatments is to try to calm them and sooth them rather than jumping on medications,” Dr. Hamdan told Nashville’s NewsChannel5.

NICU Rockers: healing through physical touch

Headshot of Amber Price
Amber Price, chief operating officer at TriStar Centennial Women’s Hospital and the Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial

As a result, HCA Healthcare’s TriStar Centennial Medical Center developed NICU Rockers, a volunteer program focused on soothing and comforting infants experiencing NAS by holding and rocking them.

“Our NICU wants to make sure that every baby has a loving pair of arms available around the clock, even when parents can’t physically be present,” says Amber Price, chief operating officer at TriStar Centennial Women’s Hospital and the Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial. “All of our NICU Rockers are specifically trained to soothe these babies, and are available for other babies who need holding for any reason.”

Rocking infants with NAS helps to maintain a consistent environment for the infant throughout the withdrawal process.

“Swaddling, pacifiers, low lighting, oscillating cribs and avoidance of abrupt changes in the infant’s environment can be helpful. NICU Rockers play an important role in the non-pharmacologic management of NAS,” says Dr. Hamdan. “Recent studies suggest that the Eat/Sleep/Console (ESC) approach has decreased exposure to pharmacologic agents and decrease length of stay for babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome.”

NICU rocker volunteers also find the program rewarding.

“Comforting a baby in withdrawal of opioids is at times a challenge, however, it is such a blessing and a rewarding experience,” said NICU Rocker volunteer, Carol Bingham. “I’m proud to provide singing, soothing, rocking and touch to a baby in need.”

Interested in volunteering as a NICU Rocker? Click here for more information.
Woman wearing hospital gown and holding swaddled baby
NICU Rocker volunteer, Carol Bingham, comforts a newborn at HCA Healthcare’s Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial.

Not only does the NICU Rockers program help families while in the hospital, the program also offers support once the family leaves by providing them with a virtual toolbox to use at home.

“Our goal is to launch healthy families. Every baby deserves a healthy family to go home to, and by supporting our mothers we are helping them come home to a safe and supportive environment,” says Price. “The families go home with a virtual toolbox of things they can pull out in challenging situations. If a baby is crying inconsolably, we want to be sure that they have at least three tools at their disposal that will help them soothe their baby.”

“If a baby has a medical condition that requires home care, it is important that caregivers have all the tools and knowledge at their disposal to feel comfortable and competent to address immediate concerns. Filling their toolbox with individualized tools ensures that they have our voices and learning immediately available any time they need to draw on resources,” Price adds.

HCA Healthcare’s commitment to “Crush the Crisis”

Along with the NICU Rockers program, HCA Healthcare is helping to mitigate the opioid epidemic through our organization’s first national “Crush the Crisis” opioid take back campaign. In September 2019, dozens of HCA Healthcare facilities partnered with local and state law enforcement in 15 states to host medication take back days, collected thousands of pounds of unused and unwanted medication.

A number of HCA Healthcare facilities will continue the “Crush the Crisis” campaign through the end of October, 2019. To find a “Crush the Crisis” collection take back site near you, please visit HCA

Part of HCA Healthcare’s TriStar Division, TriStar Centennial Medical Center is a 741-bed comprehensive facility offering medical and surgical programs including behavioral health, 24-hour emergency, heart and vascular, imaging, neurosciences, oncology, orthopedics, pediatrics, rehabilitation, sleep disorder, and women’s services. An affiliate of TriStar Health, TriStar Centennial Medical Center’s 43-acre campus is home to TriStar Centennial Heart & Vascular Center, TriStar Centennial Women’s Hospital, The Children’s Hospital at TriStar Centennial, Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at TriStar Centennial Medical Center, TriStar Centennial Advanced Joint Replacement Institute and TriStar Centennial Parthenon Pavilion.

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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