Homeless pregnant women and health

Added October 15, 2021

Citation: Santos GC, Baptista TW, Constantino P. “Whose baby is this?”: challenges for homeless women’s right to motherhood. Cadernos de Saúde Pública. 2021;37(5):e00269320.

Language: Abstract available in EN / PT / ES. Full text available in EN / PT.

Free to view: Yes.

Funding sources: Brazilina National Research Council (CNPq), the Program for Academic Excellence of the Brazilian Graduate Studies Coordinating Board (Proex/CAPES) and Grade 10 Scholarship Program of the Rio de Janeiro State Research Support Foundation (FAPERJ).

What is this? Homeless pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to many health risks.

In this integrative review, the authors searched for studies of the biomedical, legal and social barriers experienced by homeless pregnant woman. They restricted their searches to articles published in English, Portuguese or Spanish and did their search in June 2019. They included 21 studies.

What was found: The experience of motherhood for homeless pregnant women is influenced by many factors such drug use, unequal class, and race and gender inequalities.

Health risks for homeless pregnant women include abortion, hemorrhage, anemia, fetal malformation, preterm birth and low birthweight.

Adequate prenatal care delivered to homeless pregnant women could reduce the health risks for the pregnant woman and fetus.

Homelessness and illicit drug use cause both individual harms to the health of the woman and the fetus/child and social harms such as growing expenses for health systems and an overload on hospital bed occupancy and social assistance.

Women who are homeless and drug-using are stigmatized and blamed for their condition of poverty and drug use.

Implications: The authors of the review concluded that homeless pregnant women and protection for the fetus/child should be under the authority of the State and that criminalization of homeless pregnant women may prevent them from using social and health services. They also stated that it is important to consider the socio-economical, legal and biomedical challenges that homeless women face.

Other considerations: The authors of the review discuss their findings in the context of gender/sex, place of residence, time-dependent relationship and socioeconomic status.


This summary was prepared by Jiewon Lim, edited by Firas Khalid, and finalized by Mike Clarke.

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