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Impact of parental substance use on infant development and family functioning: A pilot study

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Date Commenced:
Project Supporters:

UNSW Goldstar Award (Award for a highly ranked NHMRC Project Grant in 2007)

Drug Type:
Project Members: 
image - 1314150062 Hutchinson Delyse 12
Visiting Senior Fellow
Ph 50148
image - Richard Mattick
Honorary Professor
Ph 02 9385 0333
image - Lucy Burns Square 0
Honorary Associate Professor
Ph 02 9385 0258
image - Marian Shanahan
Dr Marian Shanahan
Honorary Senior Lecturer
image - 1314158526 Wendy Swift 013
Dr Wendy Swift
Consultancies and Vendor Staff
image - Gab Campbell
Research Fellow
Ph 02 9385 0286
image - 1314149988 Gomez Maria 06
Ms Maria Gomez
Research Assistant
Project Main Description: 

This project is a pilot study to establish the feasibility and methods for a new Australian birth cohort of 1800-2000 Australian families (The Triple B Study: Bumps, Babies and Beyond). The research will examine a wide range of biopsychosocial factors that relate to the health and development of Australian children and families. The project has a key focus on examining the impacts of substance use in pregnant women and their partners during the prenatal period on infant development and family functioning. The results of this study will inform public health and treatment initiatives that improve the health and well-being of Australian children and families.

Project Collaborators: External: 

Professor Steve Allsop (National Drug and Alcohol Research Institute, Curtin University)

Professor Jake Najman (Queensland Alcohol and Drug Research and Education Centre, University of QLD)

Professor Elizabeth Elliot (The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, University of Sydney Clinical School)

Dr Sue Jacobs (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital)

Dr Craig Olsson (Murdoch Childrens Research Institute)

Professor Anne Bartu (Curtin University)

Dr Elizabeth Maloney (University of New South Wales)

Ms Lee Taylor (Macquarie University)


The aims of the pilot study are to:

  • Establish the feasibility of recruiting and following up a group of pregnant women (including a subsample of high risk women attending a specialist drug and alcohol pregnancy service), and the feasibility of recruiting their partners.
  • Monitor substance use patterns and mental health in pregnant women and their partners.
  • Examine the relationship of maternal and paternal substance use and mental health with obstetric and neonatal outcomes for mothers and infants.
  • Determine how prenatal substance use and mental health problems in pregnant women and their partners impact on infant development (physical, cognitive, behavioural and emotional) and family functioning (family cohesion, conflict, and parent-infant attachment).
Design and Method: 

Seventy pregnant women and their partners will be recruited during the prenatal period. Participants will be recruited though antenatal services attached to the major hospitals in Sydney. Participants will also be recruited through specialist drug and alcohol antenatal services to ensure that an adequate number of parents with substance use problems is included in the sample. Infants will be assessed at 12 months of age.

There will be five assessment waves in the cohort study: Baseline (Trimester 1: conception to 12 weeks), Follow-up I (Trimester 2: 13 weeks to 27 weeks), Follow-up II (Trimester 3: 28 weeks onwards), Follow-up III (60 days postnatal) and Follow-up IV (Infant age 12 months). Mothers will be assessed at all time points, partners will be assessed at Baseline and Follow-up IV, and infant assessments will be conducted postnatally and at Follow-up IV. Multi-method assessments will be utilised including interview, questionnaire and observational assessment measures. DNA is also being collected via cheek swab to assess epigenetic changes over the first year of life (epigenetics refers to the programming of gene expression by environmental exposures such as drug use, stress, or diet).


Pilot data was collected antenatally and at birth on 100 women and babies from the public antenatal clinic; 42 substance abusing pregnant women and their babies; and additional antenatal, birth and postnatal patient record data from 139 substance abusing women. Over 95% of partners agreed to participate in the pilot study. The overall participation rate for the antenatal group was 77% and 62% for the clinical sample, which was high. The study protocol has therefore been proven feasible in the public antenatal services and importantly, among high-risk substance abusing participants who are more difficult to recruit and retain.


Numerous presentations have been made to staff at participating hospitals, research centres and at professional conferences.

Hutchinson, D., Mattick, R., Allsop, S., Najman, J., Elliott, E., Burns, L. & Jacobs, S. Impact of Parental Substance Use on Infant Development and Family Functioning. The Triple B Study: Bumps, Babies and Beyond. NDARC, October 2010.

Kelly, E., Hutchinson, D., Mattick, R., Burns, L. & Black, E. Substance use and mental health among pregnant women: Correlates and consequences. APSAD, Canberra, November 2010.

Hutchinson, D., Maloney, E., Mattick, R. P., Allsop, S., Najman, J., Elliott, E., Burns, L. & Jacobs, S. (2009) Parental substance use during pregnancy: Assessing maternal psychosocial characteristics, obstetric and neonatal outcomes. Poster presented at Australasian Professional Society of Alcohol and Other Drugs Conference, Darwin, 3rd November, 2009

Abstract published - Hutchinson, D., Maloney, E., Mattick, R., Allsop, S., Najman, J., Elliott, E., Burns, L. & Jacobs, S. (2009) What are the impacts of mothers and partners substance use during pregnancy? Assessing the psychosocial characteristics, obstetric, and neonatal outcomes, Drug and Alcohol Review, vol. 28 (Supplement 1), pg A31

Project Research Area: 
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