In the United States, teenage pregnancy comes close to counting as an epidemic. Despite educational efforts on the health risks and long-term effects, research shows nearly one-third of U.S. women become pregnant before age 20. The health consequences can affect both mother and child, while the financial and social costs can last for a lifetime.
According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unintended Pregnancy (NCPTUP), the United States has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the developed world. For several years, the teenage pregnancy rate dropped in the United States. Since 2006, however, the rate has begun to increase in some areas.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), 1 in 3 teen pregnancies end in abortion.
Effects on Parents
ACOG states that teen mothers who give birth face a higher risk for complications, including premature labor and anemia. These mothers usually raise the child by themselves. These mothers tend to remain unmarried, and many live in poverty. The March of Dimes says that teen mothers often do not obtain a high school diploma and many lack the skills to obtain good jobs. Teenage boys who father children also tend to drop out of school and earn less on average than other adults of the same age.
Effects on Children
About two-thirds of children born to teens grow up in poverty. Children born to a teen mother also face higher risks for poor health. According to ACOG, about 10 percent have low birth weight, an indicator of future developmental and health problems. In addition, underage mothers are more likely to use alcohol and drugs and less likely to follow nutritional advice during pregnancy. All of these factors can lead to harm for a fetus. Children born to teen parents are more likely to have children at a young age, and more likely to commit a crime.
NCPTUP reports that taxpayers pay at least $9.1 billion annually due to teen pregnancy. Costs include health care for mother and infant, welfare and family support programs, foster care, and law enforcement.
Some cultures in the United States may take a more positive view of teenage pregnancies. A study of pregnant teenagers of Hispanic descent at the University of Colorado found that three-fourths felt that having a baby would improve their lives.
According to the Population Resource Center, Latino cultural norms tend to be more family-oriented, favoring strong family ties and higher levels of fertility. Teens of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and South or Central American descent report higher rates of sexual activity and lower-than-average rates of contraceptive use.
No conclusive research exists on whether infants born into welcoming cultures fare better than other infants born to teen mothers.
The federal government funds numerous abstinence education efforts. Depending on the political views of the administration and congressional majority, government outreach may also include information on contraception and abortion.
Parents can take part in discouraging teen pregnancy. According to a study of adolescent health reported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, parent-teen communication plays a key role in encouraging youngsters to delay their first sexual experience. The research finds that many teens modify their sexual behavior when parents explain the risks and consequences of sexual activity.
ACOG recommends that teen girls see an OB/GYN physician before the age of 15. This gives the health care provider a chance to explain the risks of teen pregnancy and provide information about sex and contraception. Teens also have a chance to ask the doctor questions they might hesitate to bring to a parent or teacher.