Agape Baby Article copyHelping Out Babies That Come From A Hard Place Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) by Joan Biggs

As a parent and care giver there is nothing more rewarding than when our children look up at you with love and tenderness and smiles to let you know that they feel safe and loved because you have met their needs. But likewise there is nothing more frustrating and painful than when we don’t know exactly what is wrong with our babies or how to help them.

Many foster care children come to us from hard places and some have experienced great trauma, even before birth. Even when we are educated about things like pre-natal trauma and neglect and believe we are prepared for any circumstance, it can still be difficult to understand exactly how to meet an infant’s special needs, especially when the infant in our care is suffering from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) or Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is on the most severe end of the FASD spectrum. Symptoms vary in both severity and mix of physical defects, intellectual or cognitive disabilities and the problems that babies and children with FAS experience in coping with daily life. Doctors are not able to diagnose FAS before a baby is born but babies with FAS often have slow fetal growth and low birth weight. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms in newborns may include high pitched crying, shaking, jitteriness, seizures, sleep and sucking problems. Newborns with FAS may come to you with prescribed medicine to help them with alcohol
withdrawals. The behavioral and physiological signs and symptoms associated with withdrawals are known as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

Newborns with NAS are watched the first week of life for signs of withdrawal, feeding problems, and weight gain. These babies are often fussy and hard to calm. Babies who vomit or are very dehydrated may need to get fluids through an IV. These babies may need to stay in the hospital for weeks or months until they are weaned off the addictive drugs and are often given small doses of a similar drug the mother’s used during pregnancy during this process. Babies with NAS may have severe diaper rash or other areas of skin breakdown which requires treatment with special ointment or cream. NAS neonates may require higher calorie or more often feedings that provide greater nutrition.

•    Tremors
•    Excessive crying or irritability
•    Sleep problems
•    High-pitched crying
•    Tight muscle tone


Pediatric nurses have done an extensive study on the best way to care for these babies and while the withdrawal symptoms vary according to the substance used, the overall findings are that the following care practices have had the best success:
•    Supportive swaddling
•    nutritional support
•    low light and low noise
•    gentle holding and gentle awakening
•    sucrose pacifier
•    music therapy
•    heart beat audiotapes
•    tactile massage with eye to eye contact
•    vertical rocking
•    observation of sleeping habits
•    prescribed medication if needed

Joan Biggs is a Board Certified Pastoral Counselor who has been working with children and families for more than three decades. She will be teaching the following Agape advanced training classes on Early Development and the Brain, which is a comprehensive curriculum that translates the most current scientific research into practical suggestions to help early childhood caregivers understand the link between caregiving and brain development. Upcoming classes are scheduled as follows: 7/23 Early Development and the Brain Part 1 I (10:00am  – 12:00 pm). This class focuses on helping young children, including pre-verbal children, deal with stress as their coping and self-regulation skills develop. 7/30 Early Development and the Brain Part II (10:00am – 12:00 pm) This class focuses on how children’s relationships with caregivers influence their brain development, and vice versa. You can register for these classes by calling Angel at 480-272-7994.

Looking to help?

As a nonprofit organization, Agape is greatly helped by people just like you — sharing their time, talent, and support.


From throwing a party, to creative fundraising, to helping train a community—there are many ways to make a difference for children and their families by volunteering with Agape!

Join the Team

Looking to take your desire to help to the next level? See what careers and positions are available, and make a difference by joining the Agape team!

“Love never fails”

Scroll Up