Researchers at Western University and its affiliate Brescia University College have now shown that depression is the single largest driver of substance use during pregnancy, highlighting the need for greater supports for the mental health of pregnant mothers.
The research team analyzed health and geographical data gathered through Lawson Health Research Institute from more than 25,000 pregnant women in Southwestern Ontario.
“Pregnant women who were depressed were 2.6 times more likely to use cannabis and twice as likely to smoke cigarettes and use alcohol while pregnant,” said Jamie Seabrook, PhD, and Associate Professor at Brescia and Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, and Scientist at Children’s Health Research Institute, a Lawson program. “We don’t know when the substance use first began but we do know that it was continuing during pregnancy and that is a big risk factor for poor maternal and infant health outcomes.”
The study, published in the Journal of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, is the first Canadian study with a sample size this large to show that depression during pregnancy is the primary risk factor for cannabis, tobacco and alcohol use, and is more important than education, income, or age.
“This really highlights the importance of programming for mental health, including mental health promotion strategies, psychotherapy and safe and proper medication for mental health during pregnancy,” said Rachel Brown, an MSc candidate and first author on the paper. “The research shows that there is an effect later on in life as well with infants that are born preterm or low birth weight. To intervene or advocate for mental health programs for the mom, the idea is that it sets up the health of the infants later on in life.”
The research team points out that this research is especially important in Canada with the recent legalization of recreational cannabis.
“Let’s help women with their mental health to improve their overall health and in doing so, improve the health of their baby,” said Seabrook.
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ABOUT BRESCIA UNIVERSITY COLLEGE
Brescia University College, Canada’s women’s university college, is affiliated with Western University. The 1,500 women registered as either full- or part-time students at Brescia study a wide variety of subjects in the Schools of Behavioural & Social Sciences, Food & Nutritional Sciences, Humanities and Leadership & Social Change in an empowering, compassionate, student-centred and invigorating environment. Degrees are granted by Western. The Catholic University College welcomes students from all backgrounds and values diversity.
ABOUT LAWSON HEALTH RESEARCH INSTITUTE:
As the research institute of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, and working in partnership with Western University, Lawson Health Research Institute is committed to furthering scientific knowledge to advance health care around the world.