Depression can be common among pregnant women and new study from Western University is showing it can lead to health risks for both mother and baby.

It’s well known that substance use during pregnancy can lead to health risks for the baby, yet that hasn’t stopped many women, but why?

“Maternal depression was the top risk factor for cannabis, alcohol and tobacco use and was an even more important that poverty or maternal age,” says Dr. Jamie Seabrook, associate professor at Brescia University College and Western.

The findings of this study - examining predictors for substance use during pregnancy - are the first of its kind in Canada.

In order to conduct the study the research team analyzed health and geographical data gathered through the Lawson Health Research Institue from more than 25,000 pregnant women in Southwestern Ontario.

“We got all of our data from London Health Sciences Centre from 2009-2014 and we used he perinatal and neonatal Data bases at LHSC," Seabrook adds.

Seabrook says the study also showed that 16 per cent of women are smoking tobacco during pregnancy and approximately two per cent of women have self reported drinking alcohol or using cannabis during pregnancy.

“Moderate to heavy alcohol use during pregnancy leads to preterm birth and sometimes spontaneous abortion and we know that cigarette smoking and cannabis lead to low birth rate, increasing the risk for things like coronary heart disease, stroke and hypertension in adulthood.”

With this new data, Seabrook says it should be an eye-opener for medical professionals.

“So I think the important take-home message is that health care providers should screen women, ideally pre-pregnancy or very early on in pregnancy.”

The next steps will be to conduct further studies that will focus on how medications to treat depression may effect the pregnancy.