When asked what isn’t helpful, pregnant women who use substances indicate a number of issues that get in the way of helpful service provision. Helpful service providers do not:

  • give simplistic advice—a service provider who says “you should quit using” doesn’t help. Instead, work with each woman to come up with realistic answers for her substance use.
  • have inappropriate reactions—a service provider who expresses disapproval about substance use either in words or in body language is not showing empathy
  • refuse to deal with multiple issues—it doesn’t help to focus on one issue only, such as quitting substance use, without recognizing how this is connected to all other issues in a woman’s life
  • make assumptions about available support—unhelpful service providers don’t recognize that a woman might not have the practical supports she needs, such as access to transportation or a partner who is willing to provide emotional support through the quitting process

If women perceive that a service provider does not have a good understanding of the different stresses in their lives, then they are less likely to act on suggestions or advice and more likely to perceive the interaction as negative.

Audio Transcription:

“Suggestions are welcome, commands like ‘you should quit using’ are not helpful.”

Here is a quote from a service provider in our community that describes the effect on pregnant women of interactions that aren’t helpful:

Audio Transcription:

“Some hospital services are great. But there are others that can be very unkind for women who are pregnant and addicted. So those women don’t want to come to hospital to give birth. They are made to feel shame and guilt and stigma.”

Remember: Your relationship with a pregnant woman is the key to change. We can be in a hurry to make sure women quit using substances. It’s healthier for everyone if she does. But remember: That’s our agenda, not hers. Try to listen and follow her lead. Change takes time. And your positive, caring relationship with her is one of the best guarantees she’ll change.
Want more information about supporting pregnant women who live in difficult circumstances? Check this out:

Life situations: Reducing the Impact—working with pregnant women who live in difficult