Researchers have discovered that depression is the single largest driver of substance use during pregnancy, highlighting the need for greater support for pregnant mothers.
It is well known that tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis use during pregnancy are associated with poor birth outcomes, yet many women continue to use these substances during pregnancy.Researchers have analysed health and geographical data gathered through Lawson Health Research Institute from more than 25,000 pregnant women in Southwestern Ontario.
The findings were published in the Journal of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine.
“Pregnant women who were depressed were 2.6 times more likely to use cannabis and twice as likely to smoke cigarettes and use alcohol while pregnant,” said Jamie Seabrook, PhD, and Associate Professor at Brescia and Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, and Scientist at Children’s Health Research Institute, a Lawson program.
Seabrook continued, “We don’t know when the substance use first began but we do know that it was continuing during pregnancy and that is a big risk factor for poor maternal and infant health outcomes.”
According to the study, depression during pregnancy is the primary risk factor for cannabis, tobacco and alcohol use, and is more important than education, income, or age.
“This really highlights the importance of programming for mental health, including mental health promotion strategies, psychotherapy and safe and proper medication for mental health during pregnancy,” said Rachel Brown, an MSc candidate.Brown added, “The research shows that there is an effect later on in life as well with infants that are born preterm or low birth weight. To intervene or advocate for mental health programs for the mom, the idea is that it sets up the health of the infants later on in life.”
“Let’s help women with their mental health to improve their overall health and in doing so, improve the health of their baby,” said Seabrook.