Pathways from Maternal Adverse Childhood Experiences to Substance Use in Pregnancy: Findings from the All Our Families Cohort

Nicole Racine, Sheila McDonald, Kathleen Chaput, Suzanne Tough, and Sheri Madigan. Journal of Women’s Health. ahead of print


Background: Exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) is a risk factor for maternal substance use in pregnancy, however, mechanisms by which maternal ACEs may influence substance use in pregnancy have not been fully explored. The current study examines the association between maternal ACEs and substance use in pregnancy (i.e., alcohol, smoking, and drug use) and explores mediating pathways.

Methods: A community sample of 1,994 women as part of the All Our Families Cohort were recruited in pregnancy in Calgary, Canada, between 2008 and 2011. Women provided retrospective reports of ACE exposure before age 18 as well as reports of demographic information, substance use (i.e., moderate-to-high alcohol use, any smoking, or any drug use), a previous history of substance use difficulties, and depressive symptoms during pregnancy. Path analyses were used to examine maternal income, education, depression, and previous substance use as mediating variables.

Results: There were significant indirect associations between maternal ACEs and maternal substance use in pregnancy via maternal education (β = 0.05, p < 0.001), previous substance use (β = 0.01, p = 0.001), and depression (β = 0.02, p = 0.02). The direct effect of maternal ACEs on maternal substance in pregnancy remained significant after accounting for the indirect effects (β = 0.22, 95% CI = 0.15–0.29, p < 0.001).

Conclusions: Exposure to adversity in childhood can lead to socioeconomic and mental health difficulties that increase risk for substance use in pregnancy. Addressing these difficulties before pregnancy may help to reduce the potential for substance use in pregnancy.

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