Problematisation and regulation: Bodies, risk, and recovery within the context of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome



Whittaker A, Chandler A, Cunningham-Burley S, Midgley P, Elliott L & Cooper S (2019) Problematisation and regulation: Bodies, risk, and recovery within the context of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. International Journal on Drug Policy, 68, pp. 139-146.

Background Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is an anticipated effect of maternal drug use during pregnancy. Yet it remains a contested area of policy and practice. In this paper, we contribute to ongoing debates about the way NAS is understood and responded to, through different treatment regimes, or logics of care. Our analysis examines the role of risk and recovery discourses, and the way in which the bodies of women and babies are conceptualised within these. Methods Qualitative interviews with 16 parents (9 mothers, 7 fathers) and four focus groups with 27 health and social care professionals based in Scotland. All the mothers were prescribed opioid replacement therapy and parents were interviewed after their baby was born. Data collection explored understandings about the causes and consequences of NAS and experiences of preparing for, and caring for, a baby with NAS. Data were analysed using a narrative and discursive approach. Results Parent and professional accounts simultaneously upheld and subverted logics of care which govern maternal drug use and the assessment and care of mother and baby. Despite acknowledging the unpredictability of NAS symptoms and the inability of the women who are opioid-dependent to prevent NAS, logics of care centred on ‘proving’ risk and recovery. Strategies appealed to the need for caution, intervening and control, and obscured alternative logics of care that focus on improving support for mother-infant dyads and the family as a whole. Conclusion Differing notions of risk and recovery that govern maternal drug use, child welfare and family life both compel and trouble all logics of care. The contentious nature of NAS reflects wider socio-political and moral agendas that ultimately have little to do with meeting the needs of mothers and babies. Fundamental changes in the principles, quality and delivery of care could improve outcomes for families affected by NAS.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome; Pregnancy; Opioid dependence; Risk; Recovery; Qualitative

International Journal on Drug Policy: Volume 68

FundersEdinburgh and Lothians Health Foundation
Publication date30/06/2019
Publication date online17/07/2018
Date accepted by journal11/06/2018

People (1)


Professor Anne Whittaker

Professor Anne Whittaker

Professor of Nursing, NMAHP