Smoking and drug use tied to stillbirths

For several years, a national study that includes San Antonio-area hospitals has been trying to get at one of the most difficult and devastating questions in pregnancy – what can be done to prevent stillbirths?

The study’s latest findings point to one answer that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise: avoid tobacco and illicit drugs, including marijuana.

The Stillbirth Collaborative Research Network looked at hundreds of live births and stillbirths in five regions across the country, including San Antonio, between 2006 and 2008. In most cases, they were able to perform tests for the presence of drugs and nicotine. 

They found that women who used marijuana, cigarettes, other illicit drugs – or presumably were exposed to second-hand smoke – during pregnancy had a higher risk of stillbirth, said Dr. Donald Dudley, an obstetrician who heads the local arm of the study.

“Smoking and illegal drug use places a woman’s pregnancy at a significantly higher risk for stillbirth,” said Dr. Dudley, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, who practices at University Health System. “While we can’t say that the use of cigarettes and these drugs causes stillbirth, they are clearly significant risk factors that can be modified.  All pregnant women should avoid smoking or using illegal drugs to decrease their risk for this tragic outcome, as well as other major pregnancy complications.”

In their paper, published in the January 2014 issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, the researchers noted that the findings about marijuana and the increased risk of stillbirth may be more relevant as its use may be increasing with legalization efforts across the country.