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About Sickkids
About SickKids

January 18, 2008

Substance use and pregnancy: Fact or fiction?

New Health Canada-sponsored resource helps healthcare professionals advise mothers


TORONTO - Medications such as antidepressants and antipsychotics have long been thought to have a negative effect on the fetus. Yet published studies indicate that certain drugs can be considered relatively safe. There are many myths about the use of psychotropic drugs and other substances such as alcohol and cocaine during pregnancy.

“It is always best for women to consult with a health care professional,” says Adrienne Einarson, assistant director of Motherisk. “The health care provider's challenge is to know the true risks and benefits to both the mother and her baby, of taking versus quitting use of a substance or medication.”

Evidence regarding the safety of antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs during pregnancy has not been collected as a resource in an organized manner—until now. Thanks to a Health Canada-funded partnership, Motherisk at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) have produced a guide, Exposure to Psychotropic Medications and Other Substances During Pregnancy and Lactation, enabling health care providers to sort out the facts and help mothers make better decisions.

The first comprehensive handbook on the subject and written for a range of health care providers including primary care physicians, pharmacists, midwives, public health nurses and psychiatrists, the guide provides easily accessible data including current research and medical recommendations as well as information on stigma, counseling and screening. The guide is provided free of charge in English and French to health care professionals across the country through CAMH, tel: 1-800-661-1111 or 416-595-6059.

The Motherisk Program at SickKids has been providing counseling and research about the safety or risk to the developing baby of maternal exposure to drugs, chemicals, diseases, radiation and environmental agents for more than 20 years. Since it was created in 1985, Motherisk has counseled more than 250,000 women. It is the only program of its kind in Canada and one of the most comprehensive in the world.

For more information, please contact:

Janice Nicholson
Public Affairs
The Hospital for Sick Children
Phone: 416-813-6684
Fax: 416-813-5328
email: janice.nicholson@sickkids.ca