Community pharmacies are ideally placed to assist in providing support and advice for pregnant women.
The area of maternal services available through community pharmacy is broad, with pharmacies adapting to local needs to ensure they provide a range of services required by their local community.
Community pharmacies can provide help managing gestational diabetes – which affects 8-10 per cent of all expectant mothers. Services can include monitoring blood glucose levels, and advising the mothers-to-be on adopting a healthy eating pattern and also undertaking physical activity.
Smoking cessation is a particularly important professional service in perinatal health. If a woman smokes when she is pregnant there is a higher risk of a premature birth and low birth weight. Passive smoking also is a significant threat to an infant’s health, and the poisons in cigarettes inhaled by a mother are passed on to the infant through breast milk.
There is also an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), asthma, other respiratory illness and middle ear infections. Many community pharmacies have very effective smoking cessation programs which are backed up by support and advice from the community pharmacist and pharmacy staff.
Research shows that drinking alcohol during pregnancy is risky but still up to 47 per cent of women are reported to drink during pregnancy. High-level and/or frequent intake of alcohol in pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and a spectrum of adverse effects – referred to collectively as foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).
While the risks to the foetus from low-level drinking (one or two drinks a week) during pregnancy are likely to be low, limitations of the available evidence make it almost impossible to set a ‘safe’ or ‘no-risk’ drinking level for women to avoid harm to their unborn children.
Community pharmacists can help advise of the danger of drinking alcohol during pregnancy and refer the woman on for appropriate help where appropriate.
Data from the 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey showed that 20 per cent of mothers of children aged 24 months or less had been diagnosed with depression. More than half of these mothers reported being diagnosed with depression during the perinatal period. Many community pharmacists now undertake a special mental health course which equips them to help identify at-risk customers and to provide advice and referral – as well as lifestyle changes which can help to manage depression and mental health illnesses.