The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates about 16 million adolescent girls give birth each year. The reasons for adolescent pregnancy vary from cultural norms to lack of sex education to violence against women to slipups with birth control.
Regardless of the circumstances leading a girl to become pregnant during her teenage years, pregnancy presents a number of health risks for mother and baby. What are the risks of teenage pregnancy?
Insufficient Care during Pregnancy
Teenage girls tend to lack the prenatal care necessary for supporting a healthy baby. Whether they maintain a secretive pregnancy for several months or lack the family support needed during a young pregnancy, many teenage mothers do not receive the care they need or provide care to their growing fetus.
Teenage mothers often fail to take prenatal vitamins or visit the doctor for checkups during their pregnancies.
Many teenage mothers give birth prematurely. This means their babies are born before the 40 week gestation period. If a baby is born before 37 weeks, there is an increased risk for digestive, respiratory, and cognitive problems, as well as a variety of other health risks.
Low Birth Weight
Teenage mothers have a higher risk of giving birth to babies that are not of a healthy weight. Part of this is related to premature birth, while other times it relates to lack of good nutrition during pregnancy.
There is a higher risk of child abuse for babies born to teen mothers. This is especially true when a girl lacks support from her family or other adults in her life and is forced to deal with the stresses of new motherhood before she is emotionally equipped to handle the situation.
Extreme emotions and stress, combined with lack of education, can be a lethal combination when caring for a new baby.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Teens that are sexually active are at high risk for diseases that are transmitted sexually. If a teenage girl contracts an STD during pregnancy, it can affect the development and health of the baby.
Though there are instances in which teenagers experience birth control mishaps or get pregnant because they married young, there are even more instances in which teens get pregnant because they are practicing unprotected sex. Both mother and baby are placed in harm’s way when this occurs.
Risks to the Mother
In addition to risks that pertain mainly to the baby, teen pregnancy also affects the mother’s health. Teenage girls have bodies that are still developing and they may not be ready to support the life of a baby. Teenage pregnancy increases the risk for pregnancy-induced hypertension and postpartum depression.
The Centers for Disease Control in the United States warns that pregnant teens have a higher risk of developing depression following childbirth, especially if the girl lacks family support.
The reality is the teen pregnancy is very difficult. There might be instances in which a teen pregnancy has a happy ending and produces a well-adjusted family, but that is sadly not the case for many.
Teenage mothers often feel alone and isolated, and resent their new responsibilities. If you are a teenager or you know a teenage girl involved in a sexual relationship, do your best to understand the realities of teenage pregnancy.