How to approach substance abuse in pregnant women

substance abuse in mothers-to-be

Substance abuse: Approaching the topic with a mother-to-be

When a woman becomes pregnant, this often inspires them to stop drinking, smoking or taking drugs for the health of their baby.

Many mothers-to-be see pregnancy as a change for a new start.

However, for those whose addiction is serious tend to continue using, or cannot stop even if they want to.

The Chief Medical Officers for the UK and midwives alike recommend that if you are pregnant, you should not be drinking or smoking, for the sake of the baby.

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is proven to have long-term effects on your unborn baby, let alone cause complications during pregnancy, birth and after birth.

Most babies of those who are alcoholics are born with often life-threatening complications.

Other babies may suffer from cognitive and learning disabilities, or even physical defects.

What are the affects of alcohol on pregnancy?

Consuming alcohol during pregnancy can increase the risk of the following:

  1. Miscarriage
  2. Stillbirth
  3. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs)

How to spot alcoholism during pregnancy

Family and friends are usually the first to notice alcoholism in a pregnant woman. They may approach you, however be prepared to identify it yourself.

Some women may feel ashamed or in denial about their alcohol consumption, whereas others may be resistant to help.

More on how to stay safe during pregnancy.

If your patient is doing the following, they may be an alcoholic:

  • Not turning up to prenatal appointments and scans
  • They are not taking their nutrients and vitamins
  • They rationalise how small amounts of alcohol will not affect the baby
  • They are isolating themselves
  • They are acting aggressively, or being challenging. Read more on safety for midwives.
  • They seem to be forgetting daily activities

These may not exclusively mean that a mother is drinking alcohol, however they can be very telling warning signs.

In many prenatal appointments, you will be able to monitor their usage by conducting an alcohol screening. Read the PDF here.

Other more telling signs may be dilated pupils, smell of alcohol on the breath, clothes or skin and shakiness. More symptoms here.

How to approach a pregnant mother about her alcohol use:

Using the following steps when approaching a patient about their alcohol misuse will help discuss the issue in the calmest way possible:

  1. Raise the importance of getting support. 
  2. Avoid intimidating or emotional statements.
  3. Be prepared for denial or challenging responses.
  4. Show your support by being engaged in their pregnancy.

Support available for alcoholics

Addiction is an illness beyond your control, and just like any disease, it is treatable. Recovery is well within your reach.

If you know someone who is suffering from alcohol or drug addiction, then it is important to get them the help they need. Get more information on residential rehab admissions here.

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