Both men and women struggle with substance abuse, but there are disparities in how it affects the different sexes. When it comes to women and addiction, there are a number of realities that women have to manage and men do not. Take pregnancy for example. Pregnancy can be one of the most life-altering events in a woman’s life, and that is no different for women who struggle with addiction. 

The Stigma Women Face During Pregnancy

If a pregnant woman is seen drinking a cup of coffee, eating sushi, or even lifting a box that might be heavy, they face judgemental looks and well-intended but unhelpful comments. Even if it was the first sip of coffee she has had in a month, society has told us that a cup of coffee might be harmful to the baby and therefore the woman should avoid it at all cost. If this is what a woman faces from an action that, in the scope of things, is somewhat minor, imagine if she was to say… smoke a cigarette, consume an alcoholic beverage, or even inject heroin. When a pregnant woman does anything – even the smallest act – that is not advised during pregnancy, she is treated as if she is a horrible mother and a horrible human being. This reality can add feelings of stress, shame, and anxiety to her life and may actually be more harmful than that sip of coffee. 

Treating Addiction During Pregnancy

Recovery from addiction to alcohol or drugs is a challenging task to take on regardless of the person, their background, their gender, or their life circumstances. Although pregnancy may be a motivating factor for many women to overcome their addiction, that is not to say it makes the process any easier. The emotional and physical symptoms experienced during detox can sometimes be just as harmful, if not more than the effects of substance abuse itself. Additionally, a relapse during pregnancy can also carry a number of risks for the mother and her unborn child. 

No one will argue that a woman should not be using drugs during pregnancy. Patients using opiates experience poor obstetrics outcomes at a rate 6 times higher than normal. Cocaine use during pregnancy has been associated with high rates of miscarriage, preterm births, placental abruption, and congenital anomalies. Alcohol consumption can cause growth restriction or birth defects. Still, for a woman who is already dependent on a substance and pregnant, special considerations must be taken. 

Due to the potential risks of “quitting cold turkey”, any woman who abuses drugs or alcohol and discovers they are pregnant should consult her doctor. Together they can develop an individualized plan that is best suited for her and her baby. 

Doulas for Pregnant Women

Whether you are their doctor, family member, or a friend, consider connecting the pregnancy person with a doula who can provide emotional and physical support throughout pregnancy, birth, and even postpartum. Addiction and mental illness are greatly connected and this may increase the risk of postpartum depression or relapse. If the woman qualifies for Medicaid, her doula may even be covered by her insurance. The benefits of a postpartum doula for any new mom, but especially one coping with an addiction, cannot be stressed enough. Some doulas may even have special training or experience in supporting these moms.

Additional Tips for Supporting Recovery During Pregnancy

Whether you are a physician, spouse, co-worker, or friend, your actions and words could be a help or detriment to a pregnant woman overcoming addiction. She may already be carrying more guilt than you could imagine, so focus on providing encouragement and support. Focus on problem-solving, such as finding a rehab or suboxone doctor that is experienced in treating pregnant women. Offer help with childcare or transportation so that they do not struggle to make it to their doctor’s appointments or therapy sessions. Provide a safe space where she can talk openly about her thoughts and feelings. These are just a handful of ways in which we can help create the best possible outcomes in cases of addiction and pregnancy.