Other things can cause problems in pregnancy, too

Women want to do what’s best for the health of their unborn babies. But sometimes, other circumstances interfere with their best intentions. We know about many of the problems alcohol and other drugs cause on an unborn baby. But it’s also important to remember that many other factors can negatively affect a pregnant woman’s health and the health of her baby. These can include:

  • experiences of trauma
  • exposure to violence or abuse
  • poverty
  • inadequate, unsafe housing or homelessness
  • lack of access to prenatal care
  • mother’s overall health
  • lack of access to good food
  • genetics
  • experiences of loss, such as losing a child to the child welfare system, or death of loved one
  • racial discrimination
It’s not just substance use. All of these issues can lead to problems for the health of the mother and her unborn baby. If we can help with any one of those issues, it will help both the pregnant woman and her child. Remember: even a small change can make a big difference.

There are many reasons why it’s difficult for pregnant women to seek support for their substance use

Most women who use substances typically do want to quit or cut down their substance use when they find out they’re pregnant.  However, pregnant women face many barriers in seeking support or treatment for their substance use. These barriers include:


One of the main reasons pregnant women who use substances don’t seek support is because they are aware of the stigma placed on mothers who use substances. They often feel guilt and shame because of the attitudes of others. And many women understand their substance use can cause harm to the baby. This increases the shame and guilt they might feel.

Audio Transcription:

“I did decide to talk to one of the nurses and tell her that I was using drugs. She said to me, ‘How could you do this to your baby?’ and I could see the disgust in her face and I felt like dying.”

Some service providers find it difficult to overcome their negative attitudes toward women who use substances while pregnant. Rather than judgement from health and social service providers, women need compassion, hope, and  encouragement.

Here is a quote about stigma from a service provider in our community: 

Audio Transcription:

“I would really like it if service providers and everyone in our communities could not be judgemental. That’s the worst thing when someone has an addiction. They are looked upon as a bad person, not for who they are, but for what they’re doing. Then if they’re pregnant, they’re looked upon as even worse. Other people don’t realize that women can’t just stop using like you’re snapping your fingers and it’s gone. And some women don’t even know that they might be harming their baby.”

Child care and custody issues

Lack of child care and fear of losing custody of her children are big concerns for women, especially those looking for support for their substance use. If you or others in your community can provide reliable childcare, this can reduce barriers for pregnant women who are looking for support. In situations where women have no childcare options, it’s no wonder it can feel too overwhelming for her to get support for her substance use.

Audio Transcription:

“I was afraid that if I told a certain service provider I was using substances, she would take away my children.”

Other barriers

Some women get resistance from the people in their lives. A woman’s partner might directly or indirectly prevent her from seeking support. Other family and friends might not be supportive of her efforts to change. Women can also experience emotional barriers such as fear, denial, low self-esteem, or feelings of powerlessness that can prevent them from getting support.

Want more information about the complex lives of pregnant women who use substances? Check this out:

Preventing FASD and FAS: Working with pregnant women who use substances