Drugs, booze killing new mums

DRUG and alcohol misuse is now the most common cause of maternal death in Tasmania, prompting a leading specialist to call for targeted services for expecting mums.

Obstetrician and gynaecologist Amanda Dennis chairs the state’s maternal mortality committee and said data from recent years revealed a worrying trend – that drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence had overtaken medical complications as the leading causes of maternal mortality.

Maternal mortality covers pregnancy and the 12 months after birth.

‘‘The number one reason (for maternal mortality) is usually maternal bleeding during pregnancy ... but when you look at our data from the last 10 years in Tasmania, that’s not what I see,’’ Associate Professor Dennis said.

‘‘If we want to improve maternal mortality, we need to look at drug and alcohol services – we’ve got really good at managing the medical complications.’’

Associate Professor Dennis will head a session on maternal mortality in Tasmania at the  Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists scientific meeting in Launceston later this month.

Amphetamine use in pregnant women had risen in the last year, she said, and pregnancy  was a time to capitalise on many people’s willingness to make lifestyle changes.

During the session, Associate Professor Dennis will call for specialised programs for expectant parents determined to be at risk.

‘‘I’ll be talking about domestic violence, sexual assault and recreational drug use during pregnancy, because this is what’s affecting our women far more than traditional medical causes,’’ she said.

‘‘If we want to change the health of women and their families, this is where we need to start – supporting the community with health literacy and adequate drug and alcohol services.

‘‘Our drug and alcohol services are quite poor and our psychiatric services are pushed.

‘‘We need our services to be timely, responsive and much more accessible, and we need to find ways of engaging everyone.’’

A health department spokesman welcomed a drop in the number of pregnant women drinking but said it was vital that the good work continued.

‘‘Public Health Services is continuing to work with the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and local organisations to put in place measures to reduce alcohol consumption by pregnant women, including by training health professionals and targeted awareness-raising,’’ he said.

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