772 NZ babies born affected by drugs, alcohol, prescription medicine in past five years

Hundreds of Kiwi babies have been born recently affected by drugs, alcohol, or prescription medicine - causing serious damage to their health.

Statistics released by the Ministry of Health show 772 babies were categorised as afflicted over the past five years - and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Deformed and disfigured from their toxic time in the womb, many suffer life-long conditions including physical disabilities and brain damage.

The data shows 73 babies were born affected by prescription drugs in 2017. This compares to 66 babies born in 2013.

772 NZ babies born affected by drugs, alcohol, prescription medicine in past five years
Photo credit: Newshub

The numbers include newborns affected by anaesthesia and painkillers during labour and delivery, and babies affected by other maternal medication.

Others are affected by withdrawal from their mother's therapeutic use of drugs, or suffer deformities due to epilepsy and blood thinner medicines.

"It should be noted that this looks at all hospitalisations with these codes regardless of age at the time of the hospitalisation," the ministry says.

"As such, should the first report of this diagnosis occur several years after the birth, they are still included in the data."

A baby receiving medical care in a New Zealand hospital.
A baby receiving medical care in a New Zealand hospital. Photo credit: Newshub

Overseas, the use of the medication sildenafil - sold under the brand name Viagra - has been linked to the death of 11 babies.

The Dutch drug trial on 93 women was testing whether the medication could boost babies' growth in the womb.

Seventeen babies developed lung problems, 11 of which died. A further eight babies died of unrelated conditions.

772 NZ babies born affected by drugs, alcohol, prescription medicine in past five years
Photo credit: Newshub

The number of babies coded as being born affected by alcohol has been steadily decreasing, falling from 16 to five over five years.

Babies born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) often have intellectual and physical disabilities, behavioural problems and distinct facial features. It is irreversible.

A study in 2015 found almost a third of Kiwi women continue to drink alcohol during their first trimester, and 11 percent right up until birth.

The Ministry of Health says there is no known safe level of drinking, and recommends women abstain from alcohol from the time they decide to have a baby, through conception and the entire pregnancy.

772 NZ babies born affected by drugs, alcohol, prescription medicine in past five years
Photo credit: Newshub

Up to 90 children a year were born affected by drug use, with the ministry's statistics making no distinction between legal and illegal drugs - or the specific drugs which affected them.

However, one of the county's leading baby specialists says more mothers are smoking methamphetamine during pregnancy.

Starship Hospital paediatrician Dr Simon Rowley says he often works with mothers as young as 17 who have in some cases been smoking, drinking and doing P during pregnancy. He sees up to two babies born each week affected by meth.

Some situations are so dire that in certain cases newborns have to be weaned off the drug using morphine.

Development psychologist Dr Trecia Wouldes says the worst effects are seen in boys.

"The first study we did looking at motor development and cognitive development showed there was a delay in motor development across the board. There wasn't a delay in cognitive development except for with the boys."

"What we really need is an early intervention programme where we identify these women during pregnancy," says Dr Rowley. "They want to have a baby that's healthy, so we get involved."

Newshub.

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