Use of alcohol, illicit drugs and other psychoactive substances during pregnancy can lead to multiple health and social problems for both mother and child. Use of alcohol during pregnancy can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome and other harms such as spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, low birthweight, prematurity and birth defects.

Dependence on alcohol and other drugs can also severely impair an individual’s functioning as a parent, spouse or partner, and instigate and trigger gender-based and domestic violence, thus significantly affecting the physical, mental and emotional development of children.

Pregnancy may be an opportunity for women, their partners and other people living in their household to change their patterns of alcohol and other substance use. Health workers providing care for women with substance use disorders during pregnancy need to understand the complexity of the woman’s social, mental and physical problems in order to provide appropriate advice and support throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period.