The study is the first in Canada to focus on the predictors for substance use in expectant mothers. Western researchers have found that depression is the primary risk factor for substance use during pregnancy, and is more important than education, income or age. Associate professor Jaime Seabrook says that the main takeaway from the findings is to advocate for more mental health resources for expectant mothers.

Researchers at Western University have released a new study showing depression is the primary risk factor for cannabis, tobacco and alcohol use during pregnancy.

According to the research, pregnant women who suffered depression were 2.6 times more likely to use cannabis and twice as likely to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol while pregnant.

Analyzing data from over 25,000 pregnant women across southwestern Ontario, the study is the largest of its kind in Canada to show that depression during pregnancy is the main risk factor for cannabis, tobacco and alcohol use. It was even higher than education, age or income factors in their findings.

One of the researchers, Jamie Seabrook, an associate professor at Brescia University College, says there’s currently very limited research on predictors of drug use during pregnancy.

“We know that alcohol, cannabis and tobacco are the most commonly used, and we know that all three substances are associated with adverse birth outcomes,” he said.

“But we really don’t know a whole lot [especially in Canada] on what actually predicts alcohol, cannabis and tobacco use during pregnancy in the first place.”

Seabrook hopes that the findings can open up a much-needed discussion about mental health for pregnant mothers to not only improve their overall health, but also the health of their baby.

“Because depression was the top predictor of all three substances, we really need to advocate for mental health programs, ideally very early in pregnancy or even pre-pregnancy, to target these women who are at risk,” he said. (Read more…)