Licit and illict drug use during pregnancy: Maternal, neonatal and early childhood consequences

In brief

Women who use drugs, alcohol, and tobacco face many health and social challenges. Substance use can have a significant impact on the mother and child during and after pregnancy, as well as their families and the larger community. Most pregnant women who use drugs and alcohol face stigma and discrimination, which can affect the care they seek and receive.

In our latest Research Report Round-up, EENet's Alexandra Harrison looks at a report by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

Part of the Substance Abuse in Canada series, the report looks at the biomedical consequences of drug use during pregnancy and the psychological and social factors associated with drug use. It includes information on measures that can be taken to reduce harm to the mother and her baby.

Research Report Round-ups are brief summaries of research reports, presented in a user-friendly format.

Title and link to report: Licit and Illict Drug Use during Pregnancy: Maternal, Neonatal and Early Childhood Consequences

Version en français: Consommation de drogues licites et illicites pendant la grossesse : Répercussions sur la santé maternelle, néonatale et infantile

Author:  Loretta Finnegan, Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse 

Year: 2013

Location: Ottawa

Population addressed: Women, pregnant women, infants, children 

Type of study: Literature review 

Keywords: Substance use, pregnancy, children 

Contact person/source: Name: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (info [at] ccsa [dot] ca), info [at] ccsa [dot] ca

Language: English and French

 

What this report is about

Women who use drugs, alcohol, and tobacco face many health and social challenges. Substance use can have a significant impact on the mother and child during and after pregnancy, as well as their families and the larger community. Most pregnant women who use drugs and alcohol face stigma and discrimination, which can affect the care they seek and receive. 

There are many reasons why pregnant women use drugs and alcohol, including victimization as a result of violence from an intimate partner, family dysfunction, sexual assault, and childhood sexual abuse. In addition, about two-thirds of women with substance use problems have co-occuring mental health problems.

This report is part of the Substance Abuse in Canada series by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. The primary aim is to look at the biomedical consequences of drug use during pregnancy and the psychological and social factors associated with drug use. It includes information on measures that can be taken to reduce harm to the mother and her baby.

  • The report summarizes up-to-date research and clinical developments regarding the risks, complications, and outcomes for the pregnant mother, newborn, and child, related to the use of the following substances: 
  • opioids;
  • cocaine;
  • amphetamines;
  • methamphetamines; 
  • cannabis;
  • alcohol;
  • tobacco. 

It also gives an overview of two complications associated with substance use during pregnancy – fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and neonatal abstinence syndrome. 

The report looks at the use of comprehensive treatment services to improve outcomes for the mother and her baby. It also considers the role of obstetricians, gynecologists, and family physicians in substance use treatment and intervention, and the use of evidence-based recommendations for screening and treatment of women, before, during, and after pregnancy. 

Finally, the report includes the following recommendations for improving care for pregnant women who use illict and lict drugs:

  • Improve treatment provider education;
  • Improve client education;
  • Gain a better understanding of the effect of pharmacotherapies;
  • Adopt a multidisciplinary approach to treatment, health promotion, and prevention;
  • Address stigma as a barrier to care;
  • Apply evidence in the Canadian context; and
  • Meet the needs of specific populations, such as young women and Aboriginal women. 

How this report can be used

This report can be used by treatment providers to develop a better understanding of the consequences of drug use, to potentially enhance their approach to care and the information they provide to pregnant women in care. Recommendations for improving treatment can help guide future work for both researchers and clinicians.