When you are involved as a service provider with pregnant women who use substances and their children, it’s a good idea to examine your own biases and any prejudices you might have. Think about how your experiences impact the women and children you work with. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I been impacted personally by the misuse of alcohol and other drugs? Was  someone in my life a substance abuser and did their actions have a negative impact on me?

  • If I have been impacted, does this make it more difficult for me to work with pregnant  women who use substances? Can I let go of my experiences and any prejudices I might have because of my personal experiences?

  • Do I know where to find accurate, research- and evidence-based information about the  effects of alcohol and other drug use on pregnant women?

  • Am I able to remain non-judgemental and supportive and show empathy and respect  when I encounter a pregnant woman who uses substances?

  • Can I adopt a small steps approach—in other words, if she is unable to quit using  substances, can I provide her with assistance to reduce her substance use? Can I find other ways to provide support, even if she isn’t ready to quit substance use right now?

  • Can I overcome my personal beliefs about a pregnant woman’s need to change her  substance use quickly? Can I support her to change at her own pace in a supportive and caring fashion?

  • Can I accept relapse as a natural part of change and continue to work with her in a  supportive manner?

  • Can I stay hopeful while finding ways to encourage hope in a pregnant woman who uses  substances?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, then you are in a great position to be a wonderful support to pregnant women who use substances.

Here are some ideas that can offer support and make a difference both for you and for pregnant women:

  • Find ways to alleviate or reduce the stresses pregnant women have in their lives.  
    Many things, not just alcohol and other drugs, affect the health of a pregnant woman and her baby. She might not have enough money to meet all her needs (such as food, housing, transportation, and child care). Maybe her partner is abusive or mistreats her. Any support you can provide around these issues will make a big difference to both the pregnant woman and her unborn baby. This is true even if she isn’t able to quit using substances completely during her pregnancy.

  • Reduce the shame, fear, and guilt a pregnant woman might have.
    Many pregnant  women are made to feel ashamed, scared, or guilty if they drink or take drugs. The best thing you can do is find ways to feel less shame and guilt. This doesn’t mean that you tell her that using substances during pregnancy is okay. But you can discuss the way she feels about her substance use in an open and non-judgemental way.

  • Give pregnant women realistic information.
    An ideal pregnancy includes healthy food,  affordable housing, a supportive partner, and a stress free life without alcohol or other drugs. But a pregnant woman’s reality can be very different. Information that ignores this reality will not feel authentic to her. So it’s likely she will ignore it. If you talk about the realities of her life, the solutions will feel more acceptable to her.

  • Reassure women that a healthy pregnancy is a shared responsibility.
    In the past,  pregnant women were made to feel totally responsible for the health of their babies. But more and more, people realize that everyone involved plays a role. As a caring and supportive service provider, you have a wonderful opportunity to contribute to the health of both pregnant women and their babies. You can do this just by being supportive and understanding of a pregnant woman’s life and any difficulties she has.
Want more information about some ideas to support your work with pregnant women who use substances? Check this out:

Service Providers’ Perspectives on Promising Approaches in Substance Use Treatment and Care for Women with FASD