Substance abuse amongst expecting mothers a growing concern in the Western Cape | Western Cape Government


Substance abuse amongst expecting mothers a growing concern in the Western Cape

12 July 2016

With an estimated 102 000 births expected in the Western Cape for the 2016 / 2017 financial year, the Western Cape Government Health is taking a stance in encouraging mothers to exercise caution during their pregnancy, especially from substances which may harm the development of  their baby.

To assist mothers, the provincial departments of Health and Social Development, recently launched the ‘First 1000 Days’ project. This campaign focuses on raising awareness of the crucial First 1000 days of a child’s life.

“The initiative is a holistic programme promoting the well-being of mothers and their babies, as well as the healthy development of infants in communities across the province,” says Western Cape Minister of Health, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo.

Although the province has the lowest perinatal mortality rate (a fetal death (stillbirth) or an early neonatal death), infant mortality rate (death of a child under the age of one year), under 5 mortality rate and maternal mortality rate in South Africa, substance abuse during pregnancy is still prevalent amongst expecting mothers.

“Substance abuse disorders are extremely high in the Western Cape with smoking (tobacco), ethanol (alcohol) and methamphetamine (tik) being the top three substances used by expecting mothers. Alcohol and methamphetamine being the most prevalent amongst mothers who haven’t attended antenatal programmes, which is essential for all expecting mothers to attend during their pregnancy” says Mbombo.

In 2011, the leading cause of death in children under the age of five years was neonatal, with prematurity being the leading cause. This was followed by pneumonia, diarrhoea and injuries.

Mbombo highlights that using substances increases the risk of premature delivery, birth deformities and stillbirth. “Using substances during pregnancy can cause irreversible abnormalities of the baby’s heart, brain, kidneys and digestive system. Babies are also born with severe withdrawal symptoms after birth, making them tremble, cry incessantly and have difficulty with breathing, sucking and swallowing,” she says.

With more than 10 000 deliveries annually, Mowbray Maternity Hospital, the largest dedicated maternity hospital in South Africa, reports that more women with complicated pregnancies and other health conditions, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV/AIDS are referred to the facility.

The facility also reported that the incidence of substance use in pregnant women has increased almost threefold over the past five years with methamphetamine (tik) being the drug of choice.

Other Regional Hospital’s including Worcester and George, who respectively have approximately 3 000 births annually, listed smoking (tobacco) as the number one maternal substance use.

Mbombo highlights that although it may be perceived as harmless, when compared to other substances, smoking (tobacco) has an equally detrimental impact on the health of a developing foetus. “There is no "safe" level of smoking while pregnant,” advises Mbombo.

She says that while exposure to drugs and alcohol in the womb may cause damage to the developing foetus, environmental factors might further damage the development of the child, leading to secondary implications such as compromised education outcomes, criminal behaviour or inpatient treatment for mental health or alcohol and drug abuse.

Mbombo highlights that poverty, homelessness and hereditary (congenital) abnormalities leads to a high intake of babies having to be kept in the postnatal department of public health facilities, which in turn places pressure of maternity services offered at these facilities.

She encourages mothers to seek guidance and assistance should they have a substance abuse problem. “Enquire at your local clinic about information on the First 1000 Days campaign. Helpful information is also available in the Road to Health Booklet (RTHB). We are here to help you and your baby, but we require your full support,” says Mbombo.

“The Western Cape Government Health realises that infant morbidity (disease and injury) and mortality (death) may be significantly reduced, when mothers and their children attend both preventive and curative health services. It is for this reason that the First 1000 Days project was established,” concludes Mbombo.

Media Enquiries: 


Bianca Carls

Communications Officer: General Specialist and EMS Directorate

Western Cape Government: Department of Health

Landline:          021 918 1671

Mobile:             083 644 3383