Accepted Paper:

Producing the drug-addicted neonatal body  


Amy Chandler (University of Lincoln)
Anne Whittaker (Edinburgh Napier University)
Sarah Cunningham-Burley (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses the social and clinical production of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). The construction of a ‘NAS baby’ is shown to be contingent on understandings of (mother-infant) embodiment; narratives of addiction and stigma; and practices of health and social care.

Paper long abstract:

This paper proposes the 'drug-addicted' neonate as a particular form of 'non-conforming' body. We demonstrate how the diagnosis of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is produced by practices of care, and public health discourse, each of which are shaped by wider cultural responses to addiction and (mother-infant) embodiment.

We argue that the production of a NAS diagnosis rests on a complex range of discourses and practices through which the infant body, maternal body, and substances of addiction are articulated. The 'NAS baby' is an 'abnormal' baby, whose existence and symptoms are framed as paralleling the troubling nature of addiction in general, and particularly in the context of motherhood.

Semi-structured, qualitative interviews were held with 16 parents (7M, 9F) who had recent experience of caring for a baby at risk of NAS. 4 multi-disciplinary focus groups were held with 27 health and social care professionals (23 F, 4 M). Interviews and focus groups addressed experiences of anticipating and caring for babies at risk of NAS. Accounts were analysed thematically.

Our paper contributes to STS literature regarding the process and construction of diagnosis; and the role of bodies within this (e.g. Mol 2002; Gardner and Williams 2015). The addicted neonatal body is a focus of public health intervention. Our analysis demonstrates the contingent nature of the 'NAS baby', as articulated through narratives of: infant embodiment, practices of care, wider attitudes towards addiction, and understandings of the impact of particular substances on maternal and infant bodies.

Panel T057
Non-conforming bodies: an exploration of public health knowledge, practice and technologies beyond 'the body'