Study shows drop in cannabis and cigarette use during pregnancy for young, first-time mothers

October 27, 2020

Findings from a scientific study by Simon Fraser University give encouraging clues on how to reduce cannabis and cigarette use during pregnancy for young, first-time mothers -to-be.

The BC Healthy Connections Project, which is being led by SFU’s Children’s Health Policy Centre, in collaboration with researchers at McMaster University, is a randomized controlled trial examining an intensive nurse-home visiting program, called Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP). Findings suggest that NFP may help in reducing some types of prenatal substance use in girls and young women experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage.

Findings were recently published in a peer-reviewed academic journal, Canadian Medical Association Journal Open. The paper may be seen here.

Prenatal exposure to alcohol, cigarettes/nicotine, cannabis, and street drugs all place children at risk for poor health outcomes including being born too early, having a low birth weight, and having later learning and behaviour problems.

Girls and young women who received NFP (compared with regular prenatal services) showed a statistically-significant drop in prenatal cannabis use. As well, those who were smokers and received NFP showed a statistically significant drop in daily number of cigarettes smoked — which is important, given that even low-level cigarette smoking is harmful to a fetus.

Prevention is by far the best approach to such issues, according to Children’s Health Policy Centre director Charlotte Waddell. “These findings are good news in that they show we can prevent or reduce substance use during pregnancy,” she says. Study scientific director Nicole Catherine agrees. “It’s exciting to see these positive results during pregnancy, which is a crucial window for promoting children’s health and wellbeing.” 

NFP is a prevention program involving public health nursing home visits starting early in pregnancy and continuing until children reach age two years. It aims to improve child and maternal wellbeing, focusing on young, first-time parents facing socioeconomic disadvantage. While NFP trials in the United States have shown many short- and long-term benefits for both children and mothers—including the program more than paying for itself—NFP has never before been tested in Canada.

For this study, the team is following 739 mothers and 737 children across BC. The BC Ministry of Health is sponsoring the trial, with support from the BC Ministries of Children and Family Development and Mental Health and Addictions—in collaboration with Fraser, Interior, Island and Vancouver Coastal Health Authorities.