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SAMHSA’s Award-Winning Newsletter
May/June 2009, Volume 17, Number 3 

Pregnant Women, New Mothers, and Substance Use

Use of Alcohol, Cigarettes, and Illicit Drugs Resumes after Childbirth

How do pregnant women and new mothers differ when it comes to substance use?

A new national report from SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) provides both encouraging and discouraging news.

photo of pregnant woman

The report, Substance Use among Women During Pregnancy and Following Childbirth, studies NSDUH data gathered between 2002 and 2007. Results show that most women are heeding warnings about the dangers that substance use during pregnancy can pose.

Of concern, however, are NSDUH data that suggest once women give birth, many new mothers resume the use of alcohol, cigarettes, illicit drugs, or engage in binge drinking.**

Substance use rates were lowest among women in the third trimester of pregnancy. For example, the rate of past-month alcohol use was 6.2 percent; binge alcohol use, 1 percent; cigarette use, 13.9 percent; and marijuana use, 1.4 percent.

Still, a sizeable proportion of women in the first trimester of pregnancy were past-month users of alcohol, cigarettes, or marijuana, and one in seven women used cigarettes in the second or third trimester. However, some of the pregnant women who used substances in their first trimester may not have been aware that they were pregnant at the time.

Findings

Among the report’s most significant findings was that many postpartum women rapidly resume substance use.

For example, when compared with women in the third trimester of pregnancy, nonpregnant women with children under 3 months old in the household had much higher rates of past-month alcohol use (6.2 percent vs. 31.9 percent), binge alcohol use (1 percent vs. 10 percent), cigarette use (13.9 percent vs. 20.4 percent), and marijuana use (1.4 percent vs. 3.8 percent), suggesting resumption of substance use among many mothers in the 3 months after childbirth.

Past-month alcohol use among women age 18 to 44 was highest for those who were not pregnant and did not have children living in the household (63 percent), but comparatively low for women in the first trimester of pregnancy (19 percent), and even lower for those in the second (7.8 percent) or third trimester (6.2 percent). Similar patterns were seen with marijuana, cigarette, and binge alcohol use.

Data were compiled from a nationally representative sample of approximately 113,000 civilian, noninstitutionalized females age 18 to 44, including approximately 6,000 women who were pregnant at the time of the survey interview.

Read Substance Use among Women During Pregnancy and Following Childbirth in PDF or HTML format.

**Binge alcohol use is defined as drinking five or more drinks at the same time or within a couple of hours on at least 1 day in the past 30 days.

Binge Alcohol Use by Pregnancy Trimester, 2002 to 2007

Enlarge image

chart showing binge alcohol use by pregnancy trimester - click to Enlarge image

*NP=Nonpregnant.

Source: SAMHSA, Office of Applied Studies (May 21, 2009). Figure 2. Women’s (Age 18 to 44 Years) Past-Month Binge Alcohol Use Rate by Pregnancy Trimester and Age of Youngest Child in Household: 2002 to 2007. The NSDUH Report: Substance Use among Women During Pregnancy and Following Childbirth. Rockville, MD.

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Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration – 1 Choke Cherry Road – Rockville, MD 20857
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