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Maternal Mental Health and Substance Use Awareness

Maternal Mental Health and Substance Use Awareness

The PSA on MSA!

Welcome back! The Pickles & Ice Cream team has been busy, as we launched our first Maternal Substance Abuse (MSA) class online! We invited an expert to share their knowledge about MSA, which means we have more useful tips and tricks you can use to take care of the families that you love. This class was also an opportunity for families to open up about their experiences with substance use without judgment.  

Don’t worry if you weren’t able to make it to the class. Life happens and the P&I team has got your back! In this blog post, we’ll talk a bit about MSA. Some of the topics in this article were also brought up in the online class. This way no one misses out, and we can all learn more about MSA. The class is also held monthly! So, you’ll have an opportunity to join in the future. 


What Is It? 

Before we can get too far ahead: What is maternal substance abuse (MSA)?. MSA is used to describe what happens when a birthgiver uses substances or drugs in a way that is harmful to their health and the health of their baby. A more inclusive term for MSA is Substance Use During Pregnancy (SUDP), to include birth-givers no matter what their gender identity may be.. This article will focus mostly on pregnant women since most research on MSA and SUDP focuses on pregnant women. About 1 in every 15 birth-givers pregnant women report SUDP. When SUDP does happen, it can seriously hurt the baby during and after pregnancy. 


What Can Happen? 

The consequences of MSA vary depending on what substance is used. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the most common substances seen with MSA are opioids, tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol. Harmful effects of MSA can start in the womb and continue after birth. Substance use while pregnant can cause issues that make it difficult for the baby to grow and develop. For example, smoking tobacco can lead to low-birthweight when the baby is born. MSA can also cause miscarriages, stillbirth, and even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in severe cases. Even though MSA can cause so much harm, research shows that MSA continues to happen among pregnant women. For example one study found that around 10% of women smoked tobacco, 7% of women used opioids, and 20-30% of women drank alcohol during pregnancy. MSA-related health issues include:

  1. Low birth-weight and premature birth
  2. Birth defects and developmental disabilities (ex. fetal alcohol spectrum disorders)
  3. Baby being born with withdrawal symptoms (ex. neonatal withdrawal symptoms)


Maternal Substance Use: Why Does It Happen?

It’s not super clear what causes MSA. There may be multiple reasons why a pregnant woman may use substances. Often times, women who experience MSA also experience poverty, discrimination, and struggles with mental health. This also means that women who experience MSA find it difficult to afford maternal and child care. Substance abuse can develop as a way to cope with the stress caused by these experiences. The stigma and shame around substance abuse can then make it harder for women living with MSA to open up about their challenges and seek treatment. 


Maternal Substance Use: What Can I Do?

There are many ways you can help yourself and others who may be experiencing challenges with MSA. Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies of Georgia has an online tool called ResourceHouse. You can use this tool to search for programs, services, and support groups for various health concerns. They have the option to search for mental health and substance use resources that are close to you. Your medical provider may also be able to connect you with resources that can help.

You can also help create a safe and comfortable space for someone to discuss their struggles. This helps reduce the stigma that a woman may feel if she is using drugs while pregnant. Words like “junkie,” “addict,” and “got clean,” can make a person feel ashamed and closed-off. Instead, using words like “living with a substance use disorder” or “no longer uses drugs” can help separate the person from the substance. This can reduce shame and stigma, and that can go a long way to encouraging someone to seek the support they need. 

Wow! This was a heavy topic, but the P&I team is always here to help you carry the load! We hope you found the information in this article helpful. Please be on the lookout for the next Online Maternal Substance Abuse class, as it is offered on a monthly basis. While you’re at it, don’t forget to check out more online classes from the P&I team. Until next time!


Blog Writer: Jay Morris, BSPH, MPH
Blog Reviewer: Dr. Sheila LaFortune, DNP, APRN, CNM


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