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Protecting Yourself and Your Baby - Teen Pregnancy and Health Risks

Aug 17, 2007
Teen pregnancy and health risks to both mother and infant are unfortunately closely related. In general, infants born to adolescent mothers are at a higher risk of accidental injury and poisoning, complications of prematurity, learning disabilities and cognitive problems, minor acute infections, sudden infant death syndrome. Also, rates of premature birth and low birth weight are higher among teenage mothers.

Teen pregnancy and health risks go hand in hand in girls 14 years old and younger because of an underdeveloped pelvis which can lead to difficulties in the childbirth process. In industrialized nations, this situation can be resolved with a Cesarean section. In developing nations, however, which have high rates of adolescent pregnancy, medical services are scarce and problems during childbirth can lead to eclampsia, obstetric fistula, infant mortality, or maternal death.

Another reason that teen pregnancy and health risks are closely associated is due to lack of knowledge of proper behavior; pregnant adolescents tend to have very poor eating habits, do not take vitamins and may smoke, drink and do drugs while they are pregnant, and this may lead to their baby being born with health problems or being stillborn. Statistics show that teenagers are also less likely to be of adequate pre-pregnancy weight, which increases the risk of having a baby with low birth weight.

Looking at some statistics regarding teen pregnancy and health risks, in 2002, 9.6% of 15-19 year old mothers had a baby of low birth weight, while only 7.8% of mothers of any age had babies that weighed less than 5.5 pounds. For pregnant adolescents that are younger, the risk is even greater; 11.3% of mothers aged 15 had a low birth weight baby. These underweight babies may have organs that are not fully developed, which can lead to things like respiratory distress syndrome, bleeding in the brain, blindness, and intestinal problems.

Furthermore, the relationship between teen pregnancy and health risks is dependent on the fact that pregnant adolescents often do not receive early and regular prenatal care, putting both the mother and the baby at risk. In 2002, 6.6 percent of 15-19 year-old mothers got late or no prenatal care; this is in comparison with 3.6% of all age groups. This is even more serious because an adolescent mother is at a greater risk for pregnancy complications such as anemia and high blood pressure, and these risks are even greater for adolescents under 15 years of age. Adolescents in this young age group are more than twice as likely to die of pregnancy complications as mothers between the ages of 20 to 24.

Out of 12 million cases annually, 3 million are the teens affected by sexually transmitted diseases. If the mother is affected by an STD, these can cause serious health risks to her child as well; syphilis can cause death of the infant, besides causing blindness and death of the mother, and HIV can be fatal to both mother and child.
About the Author
Azzam Sheikh
Facilitator 'Strengthening families, strengthening communities' parent programme.

pregnancy resource center
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