With the national increase in substance use, the resulting impact on infants and young children is immense. Not only does it affect them medically and developmentally, but also it affects their relationship with their primary caregiver. Infants who may have been exposed to substances in utero are predisposed to challenging eating behavior.
The baby may have gastrointestinal distress, irritability, difficulty with managing arousal and sleep. Studies of babies who have been exposed to certain substances have documented challenges with development of regulated eating behaviors, which are early indicators of possible long-term regulatory challenges.
Additionally, the primary caregiver, often the mother, may not be able to read the baby’s hunger behavior and may have difficulty with engaging with an irritable or sleepy baby. The caregivers who continue to use substances may be less cognitively and emotionally available to respond to the baby’s expressed needs for nurturing. Feeding interactions in substance exposed infants need appropriate assessment and intervention to not only assist with the baby’s regulation and development of eating skills, but also to support a nurturing feeding relationship.
Joy V. Browne, Ph.D, PCNS, IMH-E (IV) is a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. She holds dual licensure as a Pediatric Psychologist and a Clinical Nurse Specialist. She is Director of the Center for Family and Infant Interaction, a component of JFK Partners, Colorado's University Center of Excellence for Developmental Disabilities.