The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that teenage girls experience more medical complications during pregnancy than adult women. Because a teen’s body is still developing, a number of physical problems can arise. Teens also face more personal, economic and social problems related to pregnancy. While data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that more teens may be delaying sex, research suggests that a teenager’s environment often influences the decision to become sexually active at a young age.
Young women who become pregnant during their teenage years have an increased risk for complications, with the death rate from pregnancy complications much higher among teenage girls. Pregnant teens under the age of 15 are at a particularly high risk. Data compiled by the CDC show that complications are often due to poor nutrition, a lack of exercise or the failure to receive proper prenatal care. According to the March of Dimes, young pregnant teens frequently do not get early or regular prenatal care. As a result, they are at greater risk for medical complications such as anemia, high blood pressure and placental abruption later in pregnancy.
Reports show that babies born to teenage mothers are more likely to suffer health problems, including physical and mental birth defects. As stated in a Washington State Department of Health Public Fact Sheet, infants born to teens are often born prematurely and at birth weights under 5.5 pounds. Both of these factors combined increase the risk for an infant to be born deaf, blind, mentally retarded or with cerebral palsy. If a teenager is undernourished or smokes, drinks or takes drugs while pregnant, these lifestyle habits increase the risk that her baby will have serious health problems. There is also a higher risk that a baby born prematurely may die in early infancy. Children of teenage mothers have a higher probability of slow cognitive development and behavioral problems.
According to the CDC, teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. declined steadily from 1991 to 2005. However, surveys collected by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) show that the rate of teen births increased again in the years 2006 and 2007. While more than 80 percent of teen pregnancies are reported as being unintentional, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (NCPTP) points out that teen pregnancy rates remain high, with approximately 1 million teenage girls becoming pregnant each year.
Researchers say that one problem related to teenage pregnancy may be that contraceptive methods give some teens a false sense of security. While no contraceptive method is 100 percent effective, many teenagers either inconsistently or incorrectly use contraceptives, increasing the chance of pregnancy. According to the NCPTP, younger teens are also less likely than older teens to use contraception the first time they have sex.
While reports show that 80 percent of teen mothers rely on public assistance programs at some time, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says that of the 90 percent of teenagers who carry their pregnancies to term, few seek adoption as an option. As a result, the annual cost of teen pregnancies in the U.S. is estimated to be $7 billion. Findings from the ACOG indicate that teenage births are associated with lower annual income for the mother, as these young women are more likely to drop out of school. Since only about one-third of teenage moms go on to complete their high school educations, families are more likely to live in poverty. This impacts health, says the CDC, as research continues to show a negative relationship between low income and poor health. Children’s health especially is affected, putting them at greater risk for chronic diseases, which can continue to affect them throughout adulthood.
Fact sheets published by the March of Dimes show that more teens are becoming sexually active at younger ages, with teen pregnancy rates among girls under the age of 15 on the rise. Although many of these young women report having a non-voluntary sexual experience their first time, they are more likely to continue being sexually active. This increases their chances of becoming pregnant. The March of Dimes strongly recommends that young women delay childbearing until after the age of 20 in order to decrease the risk of pregnancy complications and improve the chances of having a healthy baby.