Facts You Should Know About Teenage Pregnancy

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NEW YORK, July 3, 2004
Teenage birth rates in this country have declined steadily since 1991. While this is good news, teen birth rates in the U.S. remain high, exceeding those in most developed countries. High teen birth rates are an important concern because teen mothers and their babies face increased risks to their health.

1. About 12 percent of all U.S. births in 2000 were to teens (ages 15 to 19)

2. Almost 1 million teenagers become pregnant each year, and about 475,000 give birth

3. The teenage birth rate is declining. Between 1991 and 2000, the rate fell by 22 percent (from 62.1 per 1,000 women to 48.5). Still, in 2000 (the most recent year for which data are available), about 5 teenage girls in 100 had a baby.

4. About 17 percent of teen mothers go on to have a second baby within three years after the birth of their first baby

5. Teen mothers are more likely than mothers over age 20 to give birth prematurely (prior to 37 completed weeks of pregnancy), 14.1 percent vs. 11.4 percent in 1999.2 Babies born too soon face an increased risk of newborn health problems and even death, as well as lasting disabilities.

Teen Mother's Health Affects Her Baby

• Teens too often have poor eating habits, neglect to take their vitamins, and may smoke, drink alcohol and take drugs, increasing the risk that their babies will be born with health problems. Studies also show that teens are less likely than older women to gain an adequate amount of weight during pregnancy (25 to 35 pounds is recommended for women of normal weight). Low weight gain increases the risk of having a low-birthweight baby.

• During the mid-to late-1990s, smoking increased among pregnant teens, while more women over 20 quit.2 In 2000, 17.8 percent of pregnant teens smoked, compared to 12.2 of all pregnant women. Smoking doubles a woman's risk of having a low-birthweight baby, and also increases the risk of miscarriage, pregnancy complications, premature birth and stillbirth.

• Pregnant teens are least likely of all maternal age groups to get early and regular prenatal care. In 2000, 7.2 percent of mothers ages 15 to 19 years received late or no prenatal care (compared to 3.9 percent for all ages).

• A teenage mother is at greater risk than women over age 20 for pregnancy complications such as premature labor, anemia and high blood pressure. These risks are even greater for teens who are under 15 years old.

• Three million teens are affected by sexually transmitted diseases annually, out of a total of 12 million cases reported. These include syphilis (which can cause blindness, maternal death, and death of the infant) and HIV (the virus which causes AIDS) which may be fatal to the mother and infant.

Health Risks to the Baby

A baby born to a teenage mother is more at risk of certain serious problems than a baby born to an older mother.

• In 2000, 9.5 percent of mothers ages 15 to 19 years had a low-birthweight baby (under 5.5 pounds), compared to 7.6 percent for mothers of all ages. The risk is higher for the younger mothers: 10.5 percent of mothers between 15 and 17 years of age had a low-birthweight baby in 2000, compared to 9.2 percent of women aged 18 to 19.

• 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, vision loss and serious intestinal problems.

• Low-birthweight babies are more than 20 times as likely to die in their first year of life than normal-weight babies.

Other Consequences of Teenage Pregnancy

Life often is difficult for a teenage mother and her child.

• Teen mothers are more likely to drop out of high school than girls who delay childbearing. A recent study showed that only about 64 percent of teen mothers graduated from high school or earned a general equivalency diploma (GED) within two years after they would have graduated, compared to 94 percent of teen women who did not give birth.

• 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. Teen mothers are more likely to live in poverty than women who delay childbearing, and nearly 75 percent of all unmarried teen mothers go on welfare within 5 years of the birth of their first child.

• Teens may not have good parenting skills, or have the social support systems to help them deal with the stress of raising an infant.

• A child born to an unmarried teenage high school dropout is 10 times as likely as other children to be living in poverty at ages 8 to 12.

The March of Dimes

The mission of the March of Dimes is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality. Through programs of research, community services, education and advocacy, the March of Dimes continues its successful fight to save babies.
Because of the risks involved in teen pregnancy to both mother and child, the March of Dimes strongly urges teenage girls to delay childbearing. The March of Dimes also recommends that anyone who could become pregnant eat a healthy diet, and take a multivitamin containing folic acid every day for their own health and to reduce the risk of having a baby with birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, should they become pregnant.
Teens who already are pregnant can improve their chances of having a healthy baby by:

• Getting early and regular prenatal care from a health care provider or clinic.

• Eating a nutritious and balanced diet.

• Stopping smoking (and avoiding secondhand smoke). Smoking increases the risk of low birthweight, premature birth, stillbirth and pregnancy complications.

• Stopping drinking alcohol and/or using illicit drugs. Alcohol and drug use limits fetal growth and can cause birth defects.

Avoiding all prescription and over-the-counter drugs (including herbal preparations), unless recommended by a health care provider who is aware of the pregnancy.


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