Teenage Pregnancy Recent statistics have shown a continuing increase in teen pregnancy in the United States. This increase is of particular concern because teen mothers and their babies face increased risks to their health. The birth rate for young teens (age 15 to 17) is steadily rising. Between 1986 and 1991, the rate increased by 27 percent (from a rate of 30.5 to a rate of 38.7 per 1,000 women). In 1991 (the most recent year for which data are available), nearly 4 in 100 girls ages 15 to 17 had a baby.(1) About 1 million teenagers become pregnant each year, and more than 530,000 give birth.(1) Nearly 13% of all U.S. births in 1991 were to teens.(1) Teenage pregnancy and birth rates in the U.S. exceed those in most developed countries.(2) Teens too often have poor eating habits, and may smoke, drink alcohol and take drugs, increasing the risk that their babies will be born with health problems.
Pregnant teens are least likely of all maternal age groups to get early and regular prenatal care. In 1991,11 percent of teen mothers received late or no prenatal care.(1) (The overall average is 6 percent.) A teenage mother is more at risk of pregnancy complications such as premature or prolonged labor, anemia and high blood pressure. These risks are even greater for teens who are less than 15 years old.(3) Three million teens are affected by sexually transmitted diseases annually, out of the 12 million cases reported.(4) These include chlamydia (which can cause sterility), syphilis (which can cause blindess, death, and death to the infant) and AIDS, which is fatal to the mother and can infect the infant. A baby born to a teenage mother is more at risk than a baby born to an older mother. Nine percent of teenage girls have low-birthweight babies (under 5.5 lbs.), compared to 7 percent of all mothers nationally.(1) Low-birthweight babies may have organs that are not fully developed. This can lead to lung problems such as respiratory distress syndrome, or bleeding in the brain. Low-birthweight babies are 40 times more likely to die in their first month of life than normal-weight babies.
Life is often difficult for a teenage mother and her child. One in three teen mothers drops out of high school. With her education cut short, a teenage mother may lack job skills, making it hard for her to find and keep a job. A teenage mother may become financially dependent on her family or on welfare. Teens may not have developed good parenting skills, or have social-support systems to help them deal with the stress of raising an infant.
The March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation The mission of the March of Dimes is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality. Through its Campaign for Healthier Babies, the March of Dimes funds programs of research, community services, education and advocacy. Because of the risks involved in teen pregnancy to both mother and child, the March of Dimes strongly urges teenage girls to delay childbearing. Teens who are already pregnant can improve their chances of having a healthy baby by: ~Getting early and regular prenatal care from a doctor or clinic. ~Eating a nutritious and balanced diet. ~Consuming 0.4 milligrams of folic acid (the amount found in most multivitamin supplements) daily to reduce the risk of serious birth defects of the brain and spine. ~Avoiding smoking (and secondhand smoke when possible) and alcoholic beverages. ~Avoiding all drugs, unless recommended by a doctor or health care provider who is aware of the pregnancy.
Programs and educational materials relating to teen pregnancy are available from the March of Dimes, including the brochures, “Teens Talk Sex,” “Teens Talk Drugs” and “AIDS..What We Need to Know” and the “Clear Vision” and “Rockabye” audiovisuals, which are aimed at the junior high and high school audience. Contact your local March of Dimes chapter for ordering information.