by Kimberly Allen, RN
Teen pregnancy is a significant health issue not only in the US but worldwide. Though it is a statistical fact that the rate of teen pregnancy has fallen by around 40% to it’s lowest level since 1976 according to the CDC at leas 3 out of 10 teen girls in the US will get pregnant at least one time before reaching 20 years of age. That is around 750,000 pregnancies every year giving the US one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the western world. Not only that, in April of this year the CDC reported that approximately 1 out of every 5 teen births is a repeat birth. That means that the teenage mom has had at least 2 babies. The CDC went on to say that even though the rate of repeat births has gone down it is still too high. those with the highest rates of repeat teen births are the American Indian/ Alaskan Natives at 21.6%, Hispanics follow at 20.9% and non-Hispanic African Americans are close behind at 20.4%. The rate for repeat teen births in Caucasians is 14.8%.
Teen pregnancy isn’t just a significant health issue it also carries significant economic and social impact as well. The annual cost to taxpayers in the US us around $11 billion a year. Most teen pregnancies result in increased health care costs both for mother and baby. At least 80% of teen mom’s will depend on public assistance at some time. Teen pregnancies are also associated with increased foster care and involvement in the criminal justice system leading to increased rates of incarceration of the children of teen parents. Teen moms are also much more likely to drop out of school with only approximately one third of teen mom’s getting their high school diploma as opposed to 90% of women that did not give birth as teens. Also only 2% of teen mom’s get a college degree by the time they reach 30 years of age.
The impact of teen pregnancy also affects the children born to a teen mom. They tend to be lower achievers in school and many drop out of high school altogether. They usually grow up in poverty and in single-parent homes. Girls that are born to teenage mom’s are three times more likely to become pregnant in their teens and boys born to teen mom’s are two times more likely to wind up in prison than children born to older parents.
If that isn’t scary enough pregnant teens are also much more likely to develop complications during pregnancy. For one thing frequently teenage girls receive very little if any prenatal care, especially in the first several months of pregnancy. I’ve seen teenage girls come into the emergency room in full labor and no one knew she was pregnant, which means she got absolutely no prenatal care. The lack of prenatal care and instruction significantly increases the risk of health issues with the baby. The incidence of pregnancy induced hypertension as well as preeclampsia is higher in pregnant teens than older women. Pregnant teens also have a higher incidence of early or preterm labor. Sometimes the labor can be stopped when it starts too early using medications and bedrest, but other times due to the health of the mom or the infant the baby must be delivered early. Here again there is an increased risk to the baby for multiple complications including respiratory distress syndrome, cognitive and vision problems as well as digestive and other problems. The increase incidence of premature births increases the incidence of low birth weight babies, however, in teens even babies that make it to term tend to have a lower birth weight.
According to the CDC pregnant teens are also more likely to develop postpartum depression. These teens also often feel isolated and alone. many are scared and feel they can’t tell their parents they’re pregnant. If teens that are pregnant don’t have any support system they are unlikely to eat well or exercise and get sufficient rest. This support is crucial to a safe pregnancy for both mom and baby. The CDC has made teen pregnancy one of it’s top 6 priorities stating it’s “a winnable battle in public health, and of paramount importance to the health and quality of life for our youth.”
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.