Julie’s mom drank alcohol while she was pregnant with Julie and everything turned out OK, so Julie figured it would be OK for her to have a drink now and then during her own pregnancy.
Eva’s not ashamed to say that she smokes pot. It’s legal here in Colorado, and besides, cannabis is a natural substance. And now that she’s pregnant, it helps with the nausea.
Ever since she was in a car accident a few years ago, Tanja has relied on prescription medication to cope with the lingering pain. She hasn’t told her OB/GYN that she still takes Tramadol sometimes, even though she’s three months pregnant.
While these particular women are fictitious, their stories are essentially true. Many women in northern Colorado continue to use drugs and alcohol while they’re pregnant. And in 2013 at Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies, alcohol, pot and Tramadol were the three substances most commonly found in their babies’ systems after delivery.
The trouble is, when a pregnant mom drinks or uses drugs, the baby drinks and uses drugs too. And while we’ve all heard stories about mothers who drank or used and their babies were born perfectly healthy, the truth is that there’s no known safe level of drugs or alcohol for developing babies.
Kelly Bernatow, women and children nurse navigator at PVH, points out that drug and alcohol use during pregnancy does not have a typical face. “Where we’re really seeing an influx is in the upper- to middle-class.”
“There’s not enough medical research to know how much—if any—of any given substance might be OK,” said Bernatow. “So, the only safe amount of drugs and alcohol for a pregnant mom to consume is none.”
Still, Bernatow emphasizes that she and the other nurses and doctors at UCHealth are there to help moms and babies, even when the moms are using.
Often babies who’ve been exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero are born prematurely, requiring a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit before they’re well enough to go home. Some substance-exposed newborns are underweight. Still others are born with addiction symptoms.
While moms are laboring at the hospital, PVH and MCR nurses ask them routine questions about their smoking, alcohol and drug use during pregnancy along with other screening questions required for the Colorado Birth Certificate and Vital Statistics. “The screening determines if the baby will be tested,” said UCHealth and Larimer County Community Health Nurse Karen Yost. “A counselor may also visit with mom to see if the family could be helped by various community services.” Mothers who admit to or are suspected of use may be asked to submit a urine sample for testing. Alternately, a sample of their babies’ urine, umbilical cord or meconium (the baby’s first bowel movement) may be collected and sent to the lab for drug testing.
“When the test is positive, we work with Child Protective Services (CPS) to get help for the family,” said Bernatow. “We know that addictions are hard to overcome and that pregnancy is often the most successful time for recovery from substances. Our goal, always, is healthy families and a healthy community.”
Positive results are also sent to the baby’s pediatrician or family care doctor. Of the 738 combined PVH and MCR samples sent for drug and alcohol testing in 2013, 178 tested positive, which means they contained levels higher than a designated threshold. Samples that contain drugs or alcohol at levels below the threshold do not trigger a call to CPS.
Only very rarely does Child Protective Services separate mom and baby, said Bernatow. “That’s the last thing we want to do,” she added. It’s almost always in the family’s best interest to keep the family together, and with CPS involved, moms who are using drugs and alcohol have resources to get the help they need.
If you’re using
If you’re pregnant and using drugs or alcohol (or care about someone who is), even if you think it’s a safe amount, call Connections at 970.221.5551 for more information.