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Postnatal home visiting for illicit drug-using mothers and their infants: A randomised controlled trial


  • DOI: 10.1111/j.1479-828X.2006.00628.x

: Professor Anne Bartu, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Curtin University of Technology, GPO Box U 1987, WA 6845, Australia. Email:

Alternative corresponding author
Correspondence: Dr Joanne Ludlow, Women and Babies, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown, NSW, Australia. Email:


Background:  Postnatal home-visiting programs for illicit drug-using mothers have reported some success in reducing harms in some areas but there is a lack of data on their impact on breastfeeding and immunisation rates.

Aims:  To investigate the effect on breastfeeding, immunisation and parental drug use. The hypothesis was that the outcomes of the home-visiting group (HVG) would be superior to the control group (CG).

Method:  One hundred and fifty-two illicit drug-using women were recruited at 35–40 weeks gestation from King Edward Memorial Hospital, Perth, Western Australia and randomised after delivery to the HVG or the CG. The HVG had eight home visits; the CG had telephone contact at two months and a home visit at six months. The HVG received education and support for parenting, breastfeeding and child development. This was not provided by the research midwives for the CG.

Results:  The main drugs were heroin, amphetamines, cannabis and benzodiazepines. Immunisation rates were similar for each group. Median duration of breastfeeding for the HVG was eight weeks (95% CI, 3.8–12.2); for the CG ten weeks (95% CI, 7.3–12.7). Drug use was reduced during pregnancy but increased by six months post-partum in both groups. The retention rates were: HVG 93%; CG 86%.

Conclusion:  The hypothesis for this study was not supported. Long-term studies are urgently required to assess the effects of parental drug use on infant and child development.