Scoping review: mapping clinical guidelines and policy documents that address the needs of women who are dependent on drugs during the perinatal period

Lynne Gilmour, Louise Honeybul, Shirley Lewis, Emma Smith, Helen Cheyne, Narendra Aladangady, Brid Featherstone, Margaret Maxwell, Joanne Neale, Polly Radcliffe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Women who use or are in treatment for drug use during the perinatal period often have complex needs and presenting comorbidity. Women who use opioids during pregnancy, and their infants, experience poor outcomes. Drug use by women during pregnancy is a public health priority. This scoping review aimed to (1) map clinical guidelines, treatment protocols and good practice guidance across the UK for women who use or are in treatment for drug use during the perinatal period, (2) identify recommended best practice across health and social care for optimising outcomes and reducing inequalities for these women and (3) identify potential gaps within guidance. 

Methods: We followed the Joanna Briggs International (JBI) guidance on scoping reviews and PRISMA Scr extension. A registered protocol, containing a clear search strategy, inclusion, and exclusion criteria was adhered to. Reviewers double screened 25%, discussing disagreements. Data were extracted using a predefined template and charted in tables. Recommendations for best practice were organised around agreed categories. 

Results: Of 968 documents screened, 111 met the inclusion criteria. The documents included UK-wide, national, regional, and organisational policy documents. They varied in the degree they were relevant to women who use or are in treatment for drug use during the perinatal period, the settings to which they applied, and their intended users. Most were created without patient or public involvement and lacked any clear evidence base. Overall, documents recommended an integrated model of care with a lead professional, clear referral pathways and information sharing between agencies. Guidance suggested referrals should be made to specialist midwives, drug, and social care services. A holistic assessment, inclusive of fathers / partners was suggested. Recent documents advocated a trauma-informed care approach. Opioid substitution therapy (OST) was recommended throughout pregnancy where required. Potential gaps were identified around provision of support for women postnatally, especially when their baby is removed from their care. 

Conclusions: This synthesis of recommended practice provides key information for practitioners, service providers and policy makers. It also highlights the need for guidelines to be evidence-based, informed by the experiences of women who use or are in treatment for drug use during the perinatal period, and to address the support needs of postnatal women who have their babies removed from their care.

Original languageEnglish
Article number84
Number of pages75
JournalBMC Pregnancy and Childbirth
Issue number1
Early online date25 Jan 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Jan 2024

Cite this