June 26, 2008 -- Pregnant women who struggle with drug, alcohol, or tobacco use can achieve healthy outcomes similar to women who do not use such substances if they receive proper prenatal care and substance abuse treatment early in pregnancy.
"Integrating substance abuse treatment with prenatal care is cost-effective and significantly decreases negative birth outcomes as well as [mother's death]," the authors write in the Journal of Perinatology article, published online today.
The study involved more than 49,000 pregnant women in Kaiser Permanente's prenatal care program and examined the use of multiple substances: cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine, and heroin. Of the study participants, 2,073 women were enrolled in Early Start, the organization's prenatal substance abuse treatment program.
Study researchers found that combining substance abuse screening and treatment with early prenatal care had a positive effect on both the mother and baby's health. The risk of complications such as low birth weight, preterm labor or delivery, and stillbirth were not significantly different between the woman in the Early Start program and the women without evidence of substance abuse.
"The study's big finding was that study participants treated in the Early Start program had outcomes similar to our control group, women who had no evidence of substance abuse," study researcher Nancy C. Goler, MD, regional medical director of Kaiser Permanente's Early Start Program, Northern California operation division, says in statement.
In the Early Start program, women are universally screened for substance use, patients and health care providers are educated about the effects of alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes on pregnancy, and appointments with a licensed substance abuse expert are tied to prenatal care appointments.
Researchers encourage pregnant women with substance abuse problems to seek help as soon as they find out their pregnant.
"The sooner women ask for help, the better the health outcomes will be for themselves and their babies. My message to all pregnant women, as well as women who are trying to conceive, is to stop all alcohol, cigarette, and drug use," she says.