Complex calculations: how drug use during pregnancy becomes a barrier to prenatal care

Matern Child Health J. 2011 Apr;15(3):333-41. doi: 10.1007/s10995-010-0594-7.


Pregnant women who use drugs are more likely to receive little or no prenatal care. This study sought to understand how drug use and factors associated with drug use influence women's prenatal care use. A total of 20 semi-structured interviews and 2 focus groups were conducted with a racially/ethnically diverse sample of low-income women using alcohol and drugs in a California county. Women using drugs attend and avoid prenatal care for reasons not connected to their drug use: concern for the health of their baby, social support, and extrinsic barriers such as health insurance and transportation. Drug use itself is a barrier for a few women. In addition to drug use, women experience multiple simultaneous risk factors. Both the drug use and the multiple simultaneous risk factors make resolving extrinsic barriers more difficult. Women also fear the effects of drug use on their baby's health and fear being reported to Child Protective Services, each of which influence women's prenatal care use. Increasing the number of pregnant women who use drugs who receive prenatal care requires systems-level rather than only individual-level changes. These changes require a paradigm shift to viewing drug use in context of the person and society, acceptance of responsibility for unintended consequences of public health bureaucratic procedures and messages about effects of drug use during pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking*
  • Appointments and Schedules
  • Attitude to Health*
  • California / epidemiology
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy Complications / psychology*
  • Prenatal Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Support
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Time Factors