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Support expands for moms with opioid addiction and their babies

EMBRACE program focuses on community partnerships
The EMBRACE program, for moms with opioid addiction and their babies, has been available at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre since 2019. (Unsplash)

The EMBRACE program to support pregnant women dependent on opioids or other substances during their pregnancy and their babies will adopt a more community-focused approach in 2023.

EMBRACE, which stands for Empower Mothers and Families, Mentorship, Building Healthy Relationships, Respect, Actively Listen and Learn, Collaboration and Engagement, has been available at the post-partum unit at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre since April 2019 to teach moms how to care for their newborns through comfort techniques instead of a lengthy stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) using morphine to treat the infant’s withdrawal.

Sandi Sebastian, director of women’s and children’s health services at the hospital, said EMBRACE is growing its partnership with Enhanced Services for Women, Primary Care Networks and other community partners so the women are identified quickly and have support in the community prior to giving birth.

“When they come to Red Deer for delivery we can provide the hospital-based portion of that care, then they go back to community and they have the same relationships and that same level of support,” Sebastian said.

“We really want to make sure their needs are met in the community.”


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She said non-pharmacologic intervention comfort techniques like swaddling, nursing and a quiet environment can be a better way of treating infant withdrawal. Moms and babies stay three to seven days in hospital in their own hospital room instead of more than six weeks in the NICU. Moms also leave with the tools to care for their babies at home.

“We’ve got lots of examples of moms who were successful and able to keep their babies and stay in community and be able to recover from their opioid use.”

So far about 15 women in Alberta Health Services Central Zone have gone through EMBRACE and 11 are currently enrolled who have yet to deliver their babies.


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The EMBRACE program goes beyond pregnancy and delivery with ongoing counseling to help new moms navigate their transition into motherhood at any stage of their pregnancy.

A brochure about EMBRACE will soon be available for the public.

Sebastian said pediatricians initially identified the need to support women who used opioids during their pregnancy so a working group started looking at the research and what could be developed at Red Deer hospital.

EMBRACE is now participating in a provincial study to look at what supports are available elsewhere in Alberta and creating a program that can be rolled out across the province.

“Our goal is to keep families together and keep babies safe, and make moms realize we’re not here to judge you. We’re here to support you.”

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The EMBRACE program, for moms with opioid addiction and their babies, has been available at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre since 2019. (Contributed)

Susan Zielinski

About the Author: Susan Zielinski

Susan has been with the Red Deer Advocate since 2001. Her reporting has focused on education, social and health issues.
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