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A few of our Prevention Network (pNAT) members recently spotted an online article entitled “Demonising smoking and drinking in pregnancy may lead women to do it in private, says study.” Read the online article about the study here.

This study from the University of Cardiff in Wales has confirmed what most women’s health advocates know – that judging pregnant women for behaviours that may negatively affect fetal and child health, did not cause them to stop, but instead caused them avoid public and professional scrutiny, and to use in private. Women felt judged by healthcare professionals for their smoking and poverty, which made interactions with health care providers awkward. (See journal article on the study here.)

In the research 10 low-income, pregnant women in Wales were asked to “tell their stories” including how pregnancy affects their everyday life. Although smoking was discussed extensively by the women, interviewers did not raise the topic during the interviews. As part of their stories, women described their smoking behaviours, and reactions from the public, family, friends, and health care providers.

  

Liberation: Helping Women Quit Smoking

  

Doorways to Conversation

This study underscores what we know about substance use prevention in general – shame and stigma are not solutions to helping people change use, and specifically that the judgement of health professionals is tied to not accessing the support that is needed and deserved. In that way, the professionals become part of the problem instead of the solution. Evidence has established that using non-judgmental approaches are key to supporting behaviour change. These approaches emphasise harm reduction and employ collaborative and empathic conversations that respect individuals’ self determination and understand the underlying issues of substance use problems. Further to collaborative conversations, it is critical to understand substance use, and challenges to change substance use, as related to the burdens of violence and poverty faced by women – this forces us to move beyond a focus on individual behaviour and instead to action for social justice on these conditions of women’s lives.

Collaborative Approaches for Health Care Professionals

Indigenous Approaches to FASD Prevention

Mothercraft Study: “A Focus on Relationships”

The pNAT has written extensively about the importance of non-judgmental Level 2 discussions with women and their partners about alcohol, other substance use and the determinants of health that affect use. Included here are some resources that can help practitioners to engage in those discussions with women in a way that builds connection and relationship and supports movement toward positive change in alcohol and tobacco use, and related health and social concerns. As well, practitioners can connect to local pregnancy and addictions support programs to learn what community action to address stigma and promote social justice is underway.

References

Weinberger, A. H., Platt, J., Esan, H., Galea, S., Erlich, D., & Goodwin, R. D. (2017). Cigarette Smoking is Associated with Increased Risk of Substance Use Disorder Relapse: A Nationally Representative, Prospective Longitudinal Investigation. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 78(2), e152-e160.

See earlier posts

LINKING CANNABIS USE WITH ALCOHOL AND TOBACCO November 13, 2018
NEW RESOURCES FOR COLLABORATIVE CONVERSATIONS ON SUBSTANCE USE WITH GIRLS AND WOMEN June 18, 2018
REACHING AND ENGAGING WOMEN: WHAT WORKS AND WHAT’S NEEDED May 15, 2017
TARGETING STIGMA AND FASD IN MANITOBA June 26, 2017
ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES AND ALCOHOL USE DURING PREGNANCY August 18, 2015
BRIEF INTERVENTIONS TO DECREASE ALCOHOL MISUSE IN WOMEN November 26, 2013
LET’S START A CONVERSATION ABOUT HEALTH . . . AND NOT TALK ABOUT HEALTH CARE AT ALL June 23, 2011

The Hope Project app

With most everyone having a smartphone these days, people are using apps to support their health. There are a few apps directed to pregnant women about their substance use and mental health. Some recent efforts developed together by researchers and health providers show how these apps can be used to offer focused information and support to pregnant women.

A perinatal mental health research project in Alberta, The Hope Project, is exploring how e-technology can be used to support pregnant women with mental health concerns. Dr. Dawn Kingston and her team at the University of Calgary developed an app for screening and treating pregnant women experiencing anxiety and depression. It provides information, support, and help to women in the research study whenever they need it. The project will also look at how this intervention affects post-partum depression and the health of their children.

SmartMom Canada, was developed as part of a study from the University of British Columbia. Through text messaging, Optimal Birth BC provides women in Northern BC with prenatal education endorsed by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC). Many of these women live in rural areas and may have limited access to prenatal care. Women who enroll in the study complete a confidential survey and then receive personalized text messages that include pregnancy tips, info on health topics, and available resources in their own community.

SmartMom Canada app

Women outside of these studies may find it challenging to find similar apps. Popular pregnancy apps do not offer much info or ideas for resources for women with mental health or substance use issues. One that has been positively evaluated is Text4baby in the U.S. The sponsors partner with national, state, and private organizations and offer local resource information in some states. Also available to Spanish speakers, an evaluation of the app can be found here.

As well, apps are being targeted to health care providers on improving the care they provide. A preconception care app available to physicians provides them with information from the National Preconception Health and Health Care Initiative and makes suggestions for responding to patient questions. Research is being done on using an app to provide motivational interviewing interventions to pregnant women who use substances.

Most apps available on smartphones are directed toward the general population and seek a large user base. Mental health apps and substance use apps that might support prevention, are not designed specifically for women, pregnant or not. And most pregnancy apps focus on fetal growth and “kick counters”, the woman’s weight and blood pressure, and checklists to get ready for a child.

So, while there is an app for everything, they may not an app for everyone. However, healthcare technology is growing at a fast pace, so hopefully we will see more apps in future that can expand FASD prevention efforts.

Related topics:

TEXT4BABY PROGRAM IN THE UNITED STATES: CAN TEXT MESSAGING BE AN EFFECTIVE ALCOHOL BRIEF INTERVENTION? February 2, 2015

HEALTHY PREGNANCY, HEALTHY BABY TEXT MESSAGING SERVICE IN TANZANIA December 17, 2013

With marketing of alcohol and nicotine delivery products to youth, legalization of cannabis, and the crisis in prescription pain medication use, there are new opportunities to have conversations with youth about substance use and pregnancy, with the aim of reducing the harms and improving their overall health.

What do we know about youth understanding of substance use and pregnancy?

Existing research and data on youth behaviour provide a window.

One U.S. study showed a relationship between pregnancy and prior substance use among adolescents, and among younger adolescents in particular.

  • 59% of pregnant teens and 35% of nonpregnant teens reported having used substances in the previous 12 months.
  • Some substance use continued in pregnancy particularly among younger pregnant adolescents ages 12-14. (1)

The McCreary Centre Society conducts an adolescent health survey in BC every 5 years. The 2018 evaluation is underway, but findings from 2013 indicated a number of factors related to youth substance use and pregnancy.

Those at higher risk for harmful alcohol use include:

  • Youth in rural areas
  • Youth who were born in Canada
  • Youth who were employed
  • Youth living in poverty
  • Youth experiencing abuse or violence
  • Sexual minority youth
  • Peer relationships have risks in terms of starting drinking earlier and binge drinking particularly when friend groups are large.

Those at greater risk of being involved in a pregnancy include:

  • Youth who first had sex before their 14th birthday
  • Youth in rural areas
  • Youth who had been in government care. Among these youth, girls were more likely than boys to be have been involved in a pregnancy
  • Youth who had been physically abused
  • Youth who had been sexually abused. Among these youth, males who were more likely to have been involved in a pregnancy.

The Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) from 2017 shows that:

  • 17% of youth have participated in binge drinking and 16% cannot remember what happened during that time
  • Boys are more likely to use e-cigarettes and all forms of tobacco, over-the-counter cold/cough medications, energy drinks, cannabis, and psychedelics
  • Girls are more likely to use prescription opioids for pain relief and tranquilizers medically

IMPART info sheet on “Youth, Gender and Substance Use” recaps how the harms of early substance use are gender-specific.

How do we approach building awareness and prevention?

Opening “Doorways to Conversation” about substance use and pregnancy allows for brief interventions and support for youth as well as women and girls. Many providers think that they need to have appropriately tested screening tools along with the knowledge, skills and confidence to conduct them. As one United Nations study found, less than 30% of health providers routinely screened youth for substance use for these reasons.(2)

Trauma-informed, culturally relevant, and gender-specific relational approaches build trusting relationships that can support youth who may be dealing with more complex issues like violence and abuse, gender identity, or the foster care system.

Promising Approaches for Reaching Youth on Substance Use and Pregnancy

Here are some current promising approaches to improving youth understanding of substance use and pregnancy in Canada.

Projects like “Let’s Get Real About Drinking Alcohol” are trainings for youth focusing on the interconnection of substance use, safe sex, birth control, and drinking during pregnancy. You can view a webcast about the project here.
This handout offers conversation starters on substance use for group facilitators. Girls Action Foundation “Take Care” program provides a curriculum and resources for facilitators of girls’ groups to promote critical thinking about healthy living including substance use and sexuality.
Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) has created a low-risk drinking guide for youth.

Online sexual health resources for youth:

Teen Health Source Native Youth Sexual Health Network

  1. Christopher P. Salas-Wright, Michael G. Vaughn, Jenny Ugalde, Jelena Todic. Substance Use and Teen Pregnancy in the United States: Evidence from the NSDUH 2002–2012. Addictive Behaviors, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2015.01.039
  2. Chakravarthy, B., Shah, S., & Lotfipour, S. (2013). Adolescent drug abuse – Awareness & prevention. The Indian Journal of Medical Research, 137(6), 1021–1023.

A lot of progress has been made on effective FASD awareness and prevention strategies. Early efforts often used disrespectful tactics like unsettling pictures of women slugging down alcohol from a bottle while pregnant with a caption such as “Baby or the Bottle.” Those approaches have largely been abandoned. But one overly simple statement still pops up. And that is, “FASD is 100% Preventable.”

That statement is misleading because it suggests that FASD prevention is unidimensional and linked only to alcohol consumption. But alcohol use during pregnancy is linked to the social determinants of health, and its effects can be exacerbated by food insecurity, trauma, poverty and multi-substance use. It also suggests that stopping drinking is a simple choice. It puts the onus on the individual woman to make that choice and contributes to shame if they do not stop before they become pregnant. But in reality, there are many influences on women’s alcohol use, and real challenges to quitting before you know you are pregnant. Indeed, almost half of pregnancies are unplanned, so it is very challenging to be alcohol free before a pregnancy is confirmed.

In the case of other substances like tobacco or prescription painkillers, the public discourse extends beyond the individual user to corporate responsibilities, physicians and health authorities to provide harm reduction and treatment programs, and of governments to provide regulation and enforcement and policies that work toward social equity.

If we extend this perspective to alcohol use during pregnancy, we must speak about the responsibilities of the alcohol industry for targeting girls and women of childbearing age, and of health providers for providing comprehensive education and brief support during the preconception and prenatal periods. We must also consider the responsibilities of health services for providing integrated treatment programs for pregnant and parenting women; and of governments for ensuring gender equity and preventing violence against women.

Theoretically, stopping alcohol use in pregnancy, or ideally, before, sounds simple – just do it. But it takes a lot of individuals and sectors to do their part to make it realizable.  Simplifying it to statements like “FASD is 100% preventable” is not the best approach.

These previous blogs illustrate the full context of FASD and prevention approaches.

HOUSING IS KEY COMPONENT TO WOMEN’S RECOVERY, August 19, 2017

TARGETING STIGMA AND FASD IN MANITOBA, June 26, 2017

HEAVY DRINKING AMONG WOMEN: NORMALISING, MORALISING AND THE FACTS, Jan 24, 2017

FASD IS A PUBLIC SAFETY AND JUSTICE PRIORITY FOR ABORIGINAL GROUPS, October 23, 2016

HOW DO PARTNERS AFFECT WOMEN’S ALCOHOL USE DURING PREGNANCY? August 11, 2014

 

Federal, provincial, and territorial ministers met in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on October 14-5 to discuss issues of justice and public safety in Canada including the impact of FASD. Co-chairs of the meeting were Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybold, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Ralph Goodale, and the Minister of Justice and Atto2016-09-life-of-pix-free-stock-leaves-red-sky-leeroyrney General of Nova Scotia, Diana Whalen. Five national indigenous groups participated in the meeting: the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Assembly of First Nations, the Métis National Council, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

Vice-Chief Kim Beaudin from the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples outlined the groups’ priorities to the ministers. Stating that “the most significant issue is violence against women and girls” Beaudin further stressed related issues of FASD, Indigenous girls’ health and safety, violence against Indigenous women, and family justice reforms for Indigenous women.

During the meeting, Ministers discussed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. It underscores the need to address FASD in action numbers 33 and 34, in particular. Ministers agreed to collaborate on addressing solutions for the economic and social impacts of alcohol abuse and to release their final report on FASD and Access to Justice.

FASD prevention efforts in Canada call for multiple approaches that are holistic and move beyond just advising women not to drink during pregnancy (See: Four-part Model of Prevention). The impact of violence and trauma in all its forms on the mental and physical health and safety of women and their families and communities informs and shapes these efforts.

For more on related topics, see earlier blog posts:

New Zealand has published an action plan on how best to address FASD. Described as a “whole of government action plan” by Associate Minister of Health, Peter Dunne, Taking Action on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: 2016-1019 builds on the best practices being done across communities and service sectors including government policy and partnerships, as well as front line prevention and intervention. According to Fetal Alcohol Network NZ, the government is earmarking an initial 12 million for these efforts, which will increase support and services to women with alcohol and substance use issues.

New Zealand began the process of building the action plan with a discussion document of principles, priorities and action areas. They spent over a year seeking submissions and comments on the plan from professionals, communities, families and whānau (Maori extended family.)  Notable changes to the principles based on those submissions included issues of ethnic and services inequities, as well as stigmatization of women, families and individuals with FASD. The resulting principles defined the core priorities of the plan: prevention, early identification, support and evidence. These priorities framed its action building blocks and designated indications of success of plan outcomes. You can view an analysis of the Ministry of Health action plan submissions here.

By underscoring a collaborative and practical approach, the goal is to make sure that “FASD is prevented and people with FASD and their family/whānau live the best possible lives.”(1) Read more about New Zealand’s efforts:
http://www.health.govt.nz/publication/taking-action-fetal-alcohol-spectrum-disorder-2016-2019-action-plan

To read more about New Zealand’s prevention efforts see these previous posts:

First FEBFAST and Debates about Alcohol Labeling in New Zealand, February 1, 2011


References

  1. FASD Working Group. 2016. Taking Action on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: 2016–2019: An action plan. Wellington, NZ: Ministry of Health.

 

 

 

 

Each year, researchers with the Prevention Network Action Team (pNAT) of CanFASD Research Network conduct an international literature review of academic articles published on FASD prevention. Rose Schmidt and Nancy Poole of BC Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health looked at articles published between January and December 2015 and compiled a comprehensive bibliography of 88 FASD prevention-related articles – an increase of 25 articles from last year. With this review, those working on FASD prevention will be able to update themselves on the most current evidence and tailor policy and practice accordingly.

The bulk of the articles have come from the U.S., Canada and Australia, the United Kingdom and South Africa, in that order. The articles are organized under the four-level prevention framework created by the pNAT, as well as including articles related to FASD prevalence, influences, issues of preconception, indigenous women and young women. Fourteen articles were assigned to more than one topic category.

A look at “prevalence”

The topic category with the most articles was prevalence, followed in order by brief intervention with girls and women of childbearing age (Level 2), and influences. Preconception, raising awareness (Level 1), and specialized prenatal report (Level 3) also had a significant number of articles. We will highlight these topics individually in this blog over time in order to focus on key components of FASD prevention.

There were 26 articles having to do with prevalence rates as compared to seven articles in that category in 2014. They relate to specific location, U.S., Canada, Uganda, Norway and Tanzania, for instance, as well as pregnancy intentions, characteristics of women at risk for alcohol-exposed pregnancy, women’s understanding of risk factors during pregnancy, rates of binge drinking, adverse childhood experiences, and use of both alcohol and tobacco during pregnancy.

Some of the more compelling findings include:

  • new data from Canada shows that 27% of pregnancies are unintended – useful in that previous data on unintended pregnancies has been from the U.S. only [1];
  • smoking currently or in the past increased the likelihood of consuming alcohol during pregnancy [2];
  • experiences of abuse and violence are associated with higher levels of drinking during pregnancy[3], as well as higher education levels and older maternal age [4-9];
  • a “dose response” relationship was found to exist between adverse childhood experiences and drinking during pregnancy[3], and;
  • smoking during pregnancy was the most consistent predictor of drinking during pregnancy[10] .

Preconception behaviors as they relate to prevalence of alcohol-exposed pregnancies, in general, has become more of a focus in prevention efforts, and will be further discussed in upcoming blog posts on this bibliography.

For more information on FASD Prevention and Prevalence, see these earlier posts:


REFERENCES
  1. Oulman, E., et al., Prevalence and predictors of unintended pregnancy among women: an analysis of the Canadian Maternity Experiences Survey. BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth, 2015. 15: p. 1-8.
  2. Lange, S., et al., Alcohol use, smoking and their co-occurrence during pregnancy among Canadian women, 2003 to 2011/12. Addictive Behaviors, 2015. 50: p. 102-109.
  3. Frankenberger, D.J., K. Clements-Nolle, and W. Yang, The association between adverse childhood experiences and alcohol use during pregnancy in a representative sample of adult women. Women’s Health Issues, 2015. 25(6): p. 688-695.
  4. English, L., et al., Prevalence of Ethanol Use Among Pregnant Women in Southwestern Uganda. Journal Of Obstetrics And Gynaecology Canada: JOGC = Journal D’obstétrique Et Gynécologie Du Canada: JOGC, 2015. 37(10): p. 901-902.
  5. González-Mesa, E., et al., High levels of alcohol consumption in pregnant women from a touristic area of Southern Spain. Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 2015. 35(8): p. 821-824.
  6. Dunney, C., K. Muldoon, and D.J. Murphy, Alcohol consumption in pregnancy and its implications for breastfeeding. British Journal of Midwifery, 2015. 23(2): p. 126-134.
  7. Kingsbury, A.M., et al., Women’s frequency of alcohol consumption prior to pregnancy and at their pregnancy-booking visit 2001–2006: A cohort study. Women & Birth, 2015. 28(2): p. 160-165 6p.
  8. Kitsantas, P., K.F. Gaffney, and H. Wu, Identifying high-risk subgroups for alcohol consumption among younger and older pregnant women. Journal of Perinatal Medicine, 2015. 43(1): p. 43-52 10p.
  9. Lanting, C.I., et al., Prevalence and pattern of alcohol consumption during pregnancy in the Netherlands. BMC Public Health, 2015. 15(1): p. 1-5.
  10. O’Keeffe, L.M., et al., Prevalence and predictors of alcohol use during pregnancy: findings from international multicentre cohort studies. BMJ Open, 2015. 5(7): p. e006323-e006323.

 

man drinking with family

For over 25 years, there have been studies seeking to understand if paternal drinking affects fetal and infant health and FASD in particular. Finding that 75% of children born with FASD had fathers who were alcoholics, Abel et al. conducted a number of animal studies that described negative effects from paternal alcohol consumption but without clear or satisfactory links to humans [1]. Consequently, FASD prevention programs have primarily focused on pregnant women, where the evidence was certain, and treated paternal drinking as largely a risk factor for maternal drinking rather than a risk factor for FASD itself.

Now, with advances in epigenetic research, two recent analyses of studies are showing that paternal factors, and alcohol use, in particular, play a larger role in fetal/child health than just passing along genes. Each study analysis systematically reviewed findings about the role of paternal alcohol consumption on conception, pregnancy, and fetal and infant health. One analysis used a paternal-alcohol consumption lens, while the other used a birth-defect lens. These results provide evidence to expand prevention efforts to men, especially in the preconception period, and to continue research in the field of epigenetics and alcohol-exposed pregnancy. (To learn about epigenetics click here.)

The first review by McBride and Johnson looked at 150 research studies and distilled them down to 11 good-quality studies. The associated effects of paternal drinking fell into three themes: impact on maternal drinking, sperm health, and fetal/infant health. Two studies showed an association between low levels of paternal drinking with lowered sperm count, as well as underdeveloped sperm leading to conception problems and miscarriage. Seven studies showed an increased risk of miscarriage when men drank 10 drinks or more per week in the preconception period, and one study found an association of all cases of ventricle malformation (heart defect) with daily paternal alcohol consumption during the preconception period [2].

The second study review by Day and Savani et al. focused on birth defects and links to paternal alcohol consumption, age and environmental factors. The authors explore the evidence for how these factors impact sperm DNA and, therefore, how the developing cells of an embryo “read” and “express” genetic instructions. For example, genes that are normally “silenced” may be “activated”. Paternal alcohol consumption epigenetically impacts the “gene expression governing individual organ development” that can adversely affect fetal development, in the immediate instance and in future generations [3]. Deficiencies in brain size, heart formation, and cognitive and motor abilities (noted as being symptoms of FASD) were linked to paternal alcohol use even when there was no maternal alcohol consumption.

Both of these study analyses contend that more research is needed in order to understand the full impact of alcohol and epigenetics, and the interplay between maternal and paternal factors. Still, this latest research supports the need for health promotion policies and practices that address men’s alcohol use, not only as an influence on women’s alcohol use, and to benefit men’s health, but also for its potential adverse effect on fetal/child health.

For more on men and FASD prevention, see earlier posts:

REFERENCES/SUGGESTED READING

Abel, E., Paternal contribution to fetal alcohol syndrome. Addiction Biology, 2004. 9(2): p. 127-133. (Link here)

McBride, N. and S. Johnson, Fathers’ role in alcohol-exposed pregnancies: Systematic review of human studies. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Article in Press.

Day, J., et al., Influence of paternal preconception exposures on their offspring: Through epigentics to phenotype. American Journal of Stem Cells, 2016. 5(1): p. 11-18.

 

NDARC Guide

This new resource from the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia, is designed for all primary health care professions who see women in a broad range of health care service settings during the course of their practice.

The best practices guide builds on the evidence for providing coordinated, supportive and comprehensive care to pregnant women who use substances by providing a model for reducing the harm from alcohol and substance for women and their babies. See page 12 of this guide for a clearly charted overview of how physicians and other health care practitioners can support withdrawal, do psycho-social and nutritional interventions, and address barriers to care for pregnant women.

The model acknowledges the interconnections that impact a woman’s use of substances during pregnancy – including domestic violence, mental health, smoking, and stigma – and provides a guide for identifying risk and next steps for further assessment, support and/or treatment. See page 9 for a view of how identification differs for women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy, or not planning a pregnancy.

It also moves beyond normal referral and coordination practices by using a holistic assessment process and designating a case coordinator or clinical lead to ensure “assertive follow-up.” Assertive follow-up consists of: making sure women are supported during pregnancy and birth; keeping mothers and their babies in the hospital so that post-birth assessments for mother and child can be done and plans for support and services are in place; providing breastfeeding, safe sleeping, parenting skills and contraception support; as well as, interfacing with partners, family members, and community agencies in support of the woman and her child.  See page 16 for more discussion on assertive follow-up and pages 19-20 for “Addressing barriers to care”.

Although the extensive resources that are included in this guide are geared for practitioners in Australia, many of them provide topic-specific information that practitioners everywhere may find helpful. See pages 24-27 for website links.

For more on screening in primary care settings, see previous posts:

For more on FASD prevention in Australia, see previous posts:

 

 

 

 

Edmonton inner-city program - Aboriginal - CBC'

The Healthy, Empowered and Resilient (H.E.R.) Pregnancy Program in Edmonton, Alberta uses professional staff and peer support workers to reach at-risk pregnant and parenting women in inner city Edmonton. The program, developed by Streetworks, supports street-involved women to access healthcare services before and throughout their pregnancy and address issues such as addiction, poverty and family violence.

CBC News featured the H.E.R. Pregnancy Program last week in the article “Pregnant aboriginal women find ‘world of difference’ in Edmonton inner-city program” (July 27, 2015). Nikki Wiart interviewed staff and clients of the program and learned about the importance of outreach, peer support, and the impact of early engagement with services on pregnancy and parenting outcomes.

90% of the program’s clients are Aboriginal while 50% of the staff is Aboriginal. Morgan Chalifoux, a pregnancy support worker, with the program describes how her personal experiences as a teen mother and living on the streets can make a difference: “”Honestly, if I wasn’t aboriginal, if I didn’t have the experience, if I didn’t use when I was on the street, if I didn’t understand what it was like to have my son threatened to be taken away from me … I wouldn’t be able to have the success that I have now with the clients.”

The program uses a harm reduction approach to addressing alcohol and other substance use during pregnancy. An evaluation of the program found that:

  • 76% of 139 pregnant women who connected with the program reported substance use, typically alcohol (32%), marijuana, and other drugs
  • While connected with the program, women reported elimination of use (40%), safer use (37%), and reduction of substance use (26%) at least once during their pregnancy with the program

The Alberta government has committed to funding the program for another three years as well as developing similar programs in Red Deer and Calgary.

For more on the H.E.R. Pregnancy Program, see earlier posts:

Overview: Four Levels of FASD Prevention

Information Sheet: What Men Can Do To Prevent FASD

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