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Did you know babies can be born dependent on opioids? Yes, it can happen. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of babies born in the United States dependent on opioids has tripled in the last 15 years. Currently, 6 of every 1,000 babies born in the United States are diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

What is the process of helping those babies who are suffering from opioid withdrawal? It is a lengthy process that requires hospitalization for an average of 17 days after delivery, compared with a healthy baby who spends 2 days in the hospital after birth. The cost of hospitalization for each baby withdrawing from opioids is $66,700 compared to $3,500 for a healthy newborn. That is a jaw-dropping difference.

Right now, there is a bill looking to help reduce this rate, the Addiction Treatment Access Improvement Act. This bill would help fight the opioid epidemic which will ultimately reduce the number of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. It expands addiction treatment capacity by expanding the list of providers eligible to prescribe buprenorphine, an office-based form of medication-assisted treatment, to include advanced practice registered nurses (nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, certified registered nurse anesthetists, and clinical nurse specialists.)

It is hard to believe that the United States ranks 49 th out of 184 countries for maternal deaths and is one of eight countries where rates are on the rise. And, to make things more troubling, black women are 243% more likely than white women to die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth, according to the latest data from the CDC. This is an issue that clearly needs to be addressed.

In the U.S., more than half of all maternal deaths occur after birth—often after discharge from the hospital. This does not have to happen. In fact, at least half of all pregnancy-related deaths are preventable when the warning signs of pregnancy or childbirth complications emerge and a mom can get the timely care she needs from her healthcare providers.

There are two primary ways we are taking action at AWHONN. First, we are pushing for more Maternal Mortality Review Committees to be established. Right now, there are companion bills in the House and Senate that would create exactly that: H.R. 1318: Preventing Maternal Deaths Act and S. 1112 Maternal Health Accountability Act. We support these bills because maternal mortality review committees have been shown to lead to reduction in the maternal mortality rate. These bills would provide funds for states to establish formal committees to identify and review all pregnancy-related deaths, to submit annual reports to the CDC on the Committee’s findings, and to develop recommendations for solutions. Our goal? To ensure that every maternal death will be reviewed and more fully understood so we can prevent future deaths.

Secondly, AWHONN has created specific instructions for acting on these warning signs called " SAVE YOUR LIFE: Get Care for these POST-BIRTH Warning Signs." Recognizing and acting on these warning signs and complications that can lead to a mom’s death or injury is essential to reducing maternal deaths in the U.S. Share this information with pregnant women and new mothers you may know.

Breastfeeding is important in the development of a newborn and helps strengthen the bond between a mother and her newborn. Did you know if 90% of new mothers breastfed exclusively for six months, 13 billion health care dollars would be saved? That’s significant. The act of breastfeeding has a number of financial benefits for families, society, public and private insurers, employers, and government programs. When a baby is breastfed, the family has lower medical bills and fewer lost days of work because the infant is healthier.

Unfortunately, many women do not get the opportunity to breastfeed their baby as long as is recommended, between six months and a year, because they do not have access to paid family leave. Right now, just 13 percent of the workforce in the United States has access to paid family leave through their employer, and less than 40 percent has leave through an employer-provided short-term disability program. There is hope though because currently there is a bill in the House of Representatives, Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, that would establish a fund administered by the Social Security Administration to provide paid leave for 12 weeks for any family member for any family-related medical leave, including maternity care. We, at AWHONN, are working to have this bill passed so women can establish and sustain breastfeeding while minimizing loss of income for their families.

Last month, AWHONN hosted an all-day event on Capitol Hill called AWHONN on the Hill. We had nurses from across the country come to D.C. to talk about these critical issues with their local representatives, urging them to support each of these bills.

As nurses, we take these issues seriously because we see the detrimental effects they have on our patients and their loved ones. But do you want to know something? It’s not just nurses who have the power to speak up to fight the opioid epidemic. It’s not just nurses who can raise their voice to reduce the rising maternal death rate. And, it’s not just nurses who can help mothers be able to breastfeed with financial stability. You can make a difference too! I urge you to call your representative on Capitol Hill to support these House bills: the Addiction Treatment Access Improvement Act (H.R.3692 ), Preventing Maternal Deaths Act ((HR 1318) and Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act (H.R. 947). Also, call your two Senators to support: S: 1112 Maternal Health Accountability Act and the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act (S. 337). Go to www.congress.gov to find who your representative is and have your voice be heard. Together we can create a brighter and healthier future for our families, women and babies.

Since 1969, the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) has been the foremost authority promoting the health of women and newborns and strengthening the nursing profession through the delivery of superior advocacy, research, education, and other professional and clinical resources. AWHONN represents the interests of 350,000 registered nurses working in women’s health, obstetric, and neonatal nursing across the United States. Learn more about AWHONN at www.awhonn.org.

Mrs. Jennifer Doyle, MSN, WHNP-BC, is a Perinatal Outreach Educator at the Women’s Health Services, Summa Health System Akron City Hospital. She is a former AWHONN Chapter Leader and spent a total of eight years as an elected AWHONN Ohio Section leader, Section Secretary-Treasurer and Chair.

Mrs. Doyle is currently serving in her final year of a second term as an AWHONN member of the Board of Directors. During her tenure, she has been honored to be a member and Chair of the Public Policy Committee. As part of the committee, Mrs. Doyle advocated for and assisted in writing two of AWHONN’s position statements: ‘Criminalization of Pregnant Women with Substance Use Disorders’ and the ‘Infertility Treatment as a Covered Health Insurance Benefit. Mrs. Doyle is currently advocating for development of an AWHONN position statement regarding Human Trafficking and participated as a member of the AWHONN Writing Team for a new EBG: Diabetes and Pregnancy, which is currently Pending Publication.