Harm Reduction and Pregnancy Community-based Approaches to Prenatal Substance Use in Western Canada

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What is harm reduction?

“Harm Reduction refers to policies, programs and practices that aim to reduce the negative health, social and economic consequences that may ensue from the use of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs, without necessarily reducing drug use.” Canadian Harm Reduction Network, http://canadianharmreduction.com

Since the 1990s, services for pregnant women and mothers using harm reduction approaches have emerged in many areas of Canada. Harm reduction is an approach that helps to reduce the negative effects of alcohol and drug use at the same time as helping women to meet their immediate health, social and safety needs.

Pregnancy is often described as an opportunity to support women in improving their health, including efforts to decrease or stop substance use or increase safer use of drugs. Harm reduction approaches are a pragmatic response to addressing substance use. They recognize that substance use is just one factor among many that shapes a healthy pregnancy and that reducing or stopping substance use at any time during pregnancy can have positive effects on women’s health and the health of the fetus.

Many Canadian programs and services are gaining attention for their successes in using a harm reduction approach to engage pregnant women with problematic substance use, improving women’s health, and ensuring that women and their babies have the best possible start in life. This resource provides a short introduction to harm reduction approaches during pregnancy and uses examples from programs across Canada to illustrate harm reduction ‘in action.’

Click here to download the booklet.


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