Smoking, drinking alcohol or taking drugs can have a huge impact on a pregnant woman’s health and that of her baby – and the earlier they are avoided in a pregnancy, the better.
But the reasons behind why women take these substances is complicated, as is finding effective ways of helping them make long-term, healthier lifestyle choices.
It’s more common among women from deprived and vulnerable backgrounds, for example, and social factors such as a woman’s financial situation, housing and the strength of her support network can play a key part her decisions.
So, have measures introduced by the Scottish and UK governments to protect people’s health over the years - such as minimum alcohol pricing and limiting where people can smoke - been helping these women?
This is what Dr Rachel Kearns and colleagues want to find out. Using data from mothers and their children, she will assess whether these policies have changed women’s behaviour in a positive way, and whether they have helped women and their babies’ health.
She will look at whether making changes that affect whole populations – as opposed to individual women on a case-by-case basis - is more helpful, and which is a better use of resources and time.
Once she has gathered this information, it could be used by healthcare professionals, politicians and policy makers to help them make such decisions in future.
Most importantly, Dr Kearns’ project could help protect many vulnerable mothers and their children.