EMBRACE program at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre helps new moms who used opioids during their pregnancy and their baby. (Photo contributed)

New Red Deer program helping babies with opioid withdrawal

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre offers EMBRACE program

A new Red Deer hospital program is helping babies born with less severe opioid addiction avoid morphine to treat withdrawal, as well as empowering moms.

The EMBRACE program was launched at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre on April 1 to teach new moms who have used opioids during pregnancy how to care for their newborns through comfort techniques, such as swaddling, nursing and a quiet environment.

EMBRACE stands for Empower Mothers and Families, Mentorship, Building Healthy Relationships, Respect, Actively Listen and Learn, Collaboration and Engagement.

Sandi Sebastian, director of women’s and children’s health services at the hospital, said it’s early days, but five babies who went through the program did not required morphine to treat drug withdrawal, which requires a lengthier hospital stay.

“We have transitioned a few moms home with their babies successfully and we’ve certainly avoided the medication administration and admission in the (neonatal intensive care unit). We’re actually quite proud of that,” Sebastian said.

One baby did require intensive care for another reason, but was able to rejoin the program.

EMBRACE moms and babies stay in hospital for three to five days, which is longer than usual, to observe for withdrawal symptoms of neonatal abstinence syndrome, such as irritability, diarrhea or vomiting, tremors and sleeping issues.

If serious symptoms such as seizures or sepsis are detected, the baby is admitted to intensive care.

Sebastian said it’s difficult to know how many babies could benefit from EMBRACE, because often moms don’t want to reveal their drug use out of fear of having their baby taken away.

So far, the program has focused on moms either receiving Suboxone or methadone treatment for their addiction.

“We’re hoping that makes more moms actually seek out that therapy, so we can partner with them in their pregnancy and in their birth and transition them home,” said Sebastian.


Lacombe doctor delivers baby in parking lot

Mother of newborn sought help for addiction, admitted to drug use: documents

Moms can learn about the program at doctors’ offices, walk-in clinics, methadone programs and through the Virtual Opioid Dependency Program.

“It really, truly is about partnership. We want to develop those relationships before delivery and give moms those community supports,” said Sebastian.

At hospital, moms get a private room and baby stays with her the whole time. Family members are encouraged to visit to provide support.

A plan is developed for the transition home that includes visits with their primary care provider, public health staff and a social worker. A local taxi company is creating a voucher program to help moms make it to appointments.

New and expectant mothers in Red Deer with questions about the EMBRACE program can call 403-343-4856.


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