Twelve percent of all American babies are born premature — before 37 weeks — which translates into roughly half a million babies a year. And while lack of access to quality prenatal care, obesity, stress and other diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes play a role in those numbers, so does substance abuse. A recent report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) highlights just how common and serious smoking, drinking alcohol and abusing drugs are among expectant mothers. And what they found is eye-opening:
—21.8 percent of all white pregnant women ages 15-44 had smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days compared to 14.2 percent of Black pregnant women and 6.4 percent of Latina counterparts.
—In terms of current illicit drug use, the rate among pregnant Black women (7.7 percent) was significantly higher than among pregnant white women (4.4 percent) and pregnant Latinas (3.1 percent).
—In terms of current alcohol use among pregnant Black and white women, it is roughly the same (12.8 percent and 12.2 percent, respectively), but their levels were substantially higher than pregnant Latinas (7.4 percent).
—Overall, pregnant Latinas in this age range were less likely to use alcohol and cigarettes than pregnant Black and white women.
In a press release, SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde emphasized the serious consequences of this behavior.
“When pregnant women use alcohol, tobacco, or illicit substances they are risking health problems for themselves and poor birth outcomes for their babies,” she said, adding, “Pregnant women of different races and ethnicities may have diverse patterns of substance abuse. It is essential that we use the findings from this report to develop better ways of getting this key message out to every segment of our community so that no woman or child is endangered by substance use and abuse.”
According to an ABCNews.com report, smoking can increase a baby's chance of dying from sudden death syndrome (SIDS) when they are born, and it cause developmental problems for the fetus. Alcohol use — as little as one to two drinks per day — can adversely affect a child’s birth weight, attention, behavior and IQ, and can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome.
But there are programs available to help women with their addictions and to educate them about the dangers of substance use.
SAMHSA's Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) Center for Excellence has top-notch programs that have been proven to be successful. They include:
—Project CHOICES reaches out to women at risk of having an alcohol-exposed pregnancy before they become pregnant to provide information and help.
—Screening and Brief Intervention (SBI) helps identify and provide assistance to people in need of treatment. The program uses a simple written assessment of alcohol use and a 10-15 minute intervention with pregnant women who report drinking.
—Parent-Child Assistance Program (P-CAP) uses an intensive paraprofessional home visitation model to reduce risk behaviors in women with substance abuse problems over a three-year period.
Last December, a report found that an early intervention program for pregnant women created by Kaiser Permanente could reduce stillborn and maternal deaths and save nearly $2 billion annually in health care costs if implemented nationwide.
Learn more about prenatal substance abuse and where you can go for help here.
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(Photo: Henrik Sorensen / Getty Images)