by Kimberly Allen R.N.
Last week I went up the mountain to a couple of very small villages with the founder of the organization that I volunteer with. We took food, medicines, and school supplies to some children that are being cared for by their elderly grandmothers. At one of the homes I met a beautiful set of identical 13-year-old twin girls. There was only one noticeable difference to tell them apart. One had a noticeably swollen abdomen. After we had left the home I asked my companion if she was pregnant. He said “it looks that way”. I was stunned, she is only 13 years old and he informed me that the average age here for girls to become pregnant is 14.
There are numerous complications booth for the mother and the baby when the mother is a young teen. As most teenage mothers are not ready for pregnancy or childbirth either physically, emotionally or even financially their babies are also risk for increased complications. It is almost a certainty that this young girl will not receive any prenatal care. The young girls living up in these mountain villages do not have access or means for prenatal care including prenatal vitamins.
As a teenage mother is still growing herself she needs to eat a proper diet that is adequate not only for her growth but for the growth of her baby. The diet of the very poor here is severly limited, consisting mostly of rice and beans. It is very unlikely that this or other young girls like her will consume any green vegetables or meat during their pregnancy. Combine poor diet with lack of prenatal vitamins and anemia develops. Mothers with anemia are far more likely to develop pre-eclampsia and other serious complications.
Another problem in these villages is the drinking water. It is unsafe to drink unless purified. Because these communities can not afford purified drinking water parasite worms are a common problem. The presence of worms leads to malnutrition as the worms soak up the nutrients taken in by their host further increasing the potential for complications. Babies born to mothers that are malnurished are usually low in birth weight leading to many other health issues including respiratory distress and very weak immune systems. With weak immune systems the infants are at high risk for any number of illnesses. Many of the infants will end up with parasite worms with in the first one to two months of life leading to dehydration and severe malnutrition.
Physically, the female pelvic bone doesn’t reach it’s maximum size until around the age of 18. This means that the pelvis of a 13, 14 year old is not large enough for the vaginal birth of a normal size infant. Because it is also highly unlikely that these young mothers will be anywhere near a medical facility when it comes time for the birth the risk of maternal and infant mortality is also higher. It is also likely that the birth will be premature. Premature birth is especially dangerous to the infant because it usually hasn’t developed enough to survive outside the womb especially if the lungs are not yet able to expand to allow the infant to breathe.
Even if the mother is able to successfully give birth the babies are much more likely to die before their a year old.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.