Publish date: 27 October 2022

Northumbria Healthcare introduces new campaign to warn of the dangers of using cocaine in pregnancy

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A North East NHS trust is warning of the dangers of using cocaine in pregnancy after seeing a significant increase in cases in recent years. 

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust is launching a campaign to raise awareness of the life-threatening risks of taking cocaine while pregnant and to encourage those who have taken drugs at any point in pregnancy to speak to their midwife for support.

Cases detecting cocaine in pregnancy at Northumbria Healthcare have risen from just three women in 2017 to 47 in 2021, with 41 having already been identified in the first six months of this year.

Some of this increase can be attributed to the robust screening processes in place in the trust. This includes routine questions on substance misuse and alcohol habits in the preceding five years for all pregnant women.

Jenna Wall, head of midwifery at Northumbria Healthcare, said: “There’s a common misconception that cocaine is a clean drug and therefore not as ‘risky’ as other recreational drugs. We’ve found that more people think it’s okay to take cocaine while pregnant and we want to stress that this is not the case.

“We encourage anyone who has used or is using drugs in pregnancy to speak to their midwife in confidence. We’re here to support both you and your baby and ensure you get the advice and support you need with no judgement.”

Considerable research has been carried out into the effects of cocaine use in pregnancy and shows that it may cause placental abruption, miscarriage, premature labour and stillbirth. Evidence also suggests that cocaine use has a detrimental effect on foetal growth and brain development which can have lifelong implications for the child.

The online campaign, which launches this week, features an ultrasound image of a baby with cocaine covering its head to represent the long-lasting and life changing damage that taking cocaine in pregnancy can have for a child.

A new mother from Cramlington, who would like to stay anonymous, said:

“When I split up from my partner, I went through a bit of a tough time and found myself using drugs when I was out.

“I’m not a regular drug user and I didn’t realise I was pregnant at the time, so when I found out I was obviously upset and concerned about the effects the drugs might have had on my baby.

“I was worried about telling the midwife but when I met her she was lovely and when I told her what had happened she didn’t judge me at all. She referred me to a specialist midwife who was really supportive and explained all of the risks which made me realise the importance of a clean and health pregnancy for me and my baby.

“For anyone worrying about speaking to a midwife about taking drugs, please don’t. I’m so glad I spoke to mine and feel so lucky to have welcomed a healthy baby and to have received so much support during a worrying time.”

The campaign is part of the trust’s drive to create a safe space for pregnant people, empowering them to be open and honest with their midwives so that they can receive the care they need, free of judgement, in order to give their baby the best start in life.  

Wendy Burke, director of public health at North Tyneside Council, which has responsibility for health visiting services in the borough added:

“Like all drugs, cocaine is extremely harmful in pregnancy and the effects can be devastating. Supporting pregnant women in a non-judgemental and caring way is essential in helping them to overcome substance abuse and addiction, this work by Northumbria Healthcare has done just that.

“If you are using cocaine, or any drugs or alcohol during your pregnancy please speak to your midwife, health visitor or any healthcare professional who will help you get the right support and access to services. No amount of drugs or alcohol is safe during pregnancy.”

Liz Morgan, director of public health at Northumberland County Council, said: “It is really important that all children get the best start in life.  We know that using recreational drugs or alcohol during pregnancy can affect unborn babies and that taking cocaine during pregnancy can have serious and long-lasting effects.  

"However, there is a wide range of support to help pregnant women with recreational drug or alcohol use in pregnancy.  If you, or someone you know is pregnant and needs help, please talk to your GP, midwife, health visitor or any healthcare professional."

For more information on the effects of alcohol and drug use in pregnancy and the support available, please visit www.northumbria.nhs.uk/drugsinpregnancy     


Media contact: Nicol Evans, marketing and communications officer, Northumbria Healthcare

Nicol.evans@northumbria.nhs.uk or 0191 203 1653.