Home visits during pregnancy and after birth for women with an alcohol or drug problem

Not enough information on home visiting in pregnancy and after the birth for women with an alcohol or drug problem.

Women with an alcohol or drug problem in pregnancy are at increased risk of miscarriage, low birthweight babies, infections and postnatal depression, and the babies of withdrawal symptoms or impaired development. Home visits by individuals, teams of health professionals or trained lay people are aimed at improving health and social outcomes for mothers and babies. The review of seven trials, 803 women, found evidence that home visits after the birth may increase the engagement of these women in drug treatment services and their use of contraception, but there were insufficient data to say if this improved the health of the baby or mother. Further research is needed, with visits starting during pregnancy.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is insufficient evidence to recommend the routine use of home visits for pregnant or postpartum women with a drug or alcohol problem. Further large, high-quality trials are needed.

Read the full abstract...

One potential method of improving outcome for pregnant or postpartum women with a drug or alcohol problem is with home visits.


To determine the effects of home visits during pregnancy and/or after birth for women with a drug or alcohol problem.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (30 November 2011), CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library 2011, Issue 4 of 4), MEDLINE (1966 to 30 November 2011), EMBASE (1980 to 30 November 2011), CINAHL (1982 to 30 November 2011) and PsycINFO (1974 to 30 November 2011) supplemented by searches of citations from previous reviews and trials and contact with experts.

Selection criteria: 

Studies using random or quasi-random allocation of pregnant or postpartum women with a drug or alcohol problem to home visits. Trials enrolling high-risk women of whom more than 50% were reported to use drugs or alcohol were also eligible.

Data collection and analysis: 

Review authors performed assessments of trials independently. We performed statistical analyses using fixed-effect and random-effects models where appropriate.

Main results: 

Seven studies (reporting 803 mother-infant pairs) compared home visits mostly after birth with no home visits. Visitors included community health nurses, paediatric nurses, trained counsellors, paraprofessional advocates, midwives and lay African-American women. Several studies had significant methodological limitations. There was no significant difference in continued illicit drug use (three studies, 384 women; risk ratio (RR) 1.05, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.89 to 1.24), continued alcohol use (three studies, 379 women; RR 1.18, 95% CI 0.96 to 1.46), failure to enrol in a drug treatment program (two studies, 211 women; RR 0.45, 95% CI 0.10 to 1.94), not breastfeeding at six months (two studies, 260 infants; RR 0.95, 95% CI 0.83 to 1.10), incomplete six-month infant vaccination schedule (two studies, 260 infants; RR 1.09, 95% CI 0.91 to 1.32), the Bayley Mental Development Index (three studies, 199 infants; mean difference 2.89, 95% CI -1.17 to 6.95) or Psychomotor Index (MD 3.14, 95% CI -0.03 to 6.32), child behavioural problems (RR 0.46, 95% CI 0.21 to 1.01), infants not in care of biological mother (two studies, 254 infants; RR 0.83, 95% CI 0.50 to 1.39), non-accidental injury and non-voluntary foster care (two studies, 254 infants; RR 0.16, 95% CI 0.02 to 1.23) or infant death (three studies, 288 infants; RR 0.70, 95% CI 0.12 to 4.16). Individual studies reported a significant reduction in involvement with child protective services (RR 0.38, 95% CI 0.20 to 0.74) and failure to use postpartum contraception (RR 0.41, 95% CI 0.20 to 0.82).