Is Teenage Pregnancy Dangerous

Early childbearing can increase risks for newborns as well as young mothers. Babies born to mothers under 20 years of age face higher risks of low birth weight, preterm delivery and severe neonatal conditions.

Early childbearing can increase risks for newborns as well as young mothers. Babies born to mothers under 20 years of age face higher risks of low birth weight, preterm delivery and severe neonatal conditions.

Teenage mothers are at a higher risk for having preterm and low birth weight infants. Babies born to young mothers are also more likely to contract infections, have neurological problems and other challenges. Coming from a young family has been found to be more detrimental than coming from an older family.

While teenage pregnancy is common, and it’s true that most women can have a healthy pregnancy and baby at any age, the risks for both mother and baby increase as the mother gets younger.

Is teenage pregnancy dangerous? As a young mom, you may worry about more than potential health problems for your child. For example, if you’re in high school, it’s important to know that being a teen parent can affect how well you do in school and affect your ability to complete college or pursue a career

Effects of Teenage Pregnancy on Society

  • Approximately 12 million girls aged 15–19 years and at least 777,000 girls under 15 years give birth each year in developing regions. (1) (2)
  • At least 10 million unintended pregnancies occur each year among adolescent girls aged 15–19 years in the developing world. (1)
  • Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for 15–19-year-old girls globally. (3)
  • Of the estimated 5.6 million abortions that occur each year among adolescent girls aged 15–19 years, 3.9 million are unsafe, contributing to maternal mortality, morbidity and lasting health problems.(1)
  • Adolescent mothers (ages 10–19 years) face higher risks of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, and systemic infections than women aged 20 to 24 years, and babies of adolescent mothers face higher risks of low birth weight, preterm delivery and severe neonatal conditions. (4)

Scope of the problem

Every year, an estimated 21 million girls aged 15–19 years in developing regions become pregnant and approximately 12 million of them give birth.1 At least 777,000 births occur to adolescent girls younger than 15 years in developing countries. 2

The estimated global adolescent-specific fertility rate has declined by 11.6% over the past 20 years.5 There are, however, big differences in rates across the regions. The adolescent fertility rate in East Asia, for example, is 7.1 whereas the corresponding rate in Central Africa is 129.5.5

There are also enormous variations within regions. In 2018, the overall adolescent fertility rate in South-East Asia was 33.6 Rates, however, ranged from 0.3 in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to 83 in Bangladesh.5

And even within countries there are enormous variations. In Ethiopia, for example the total fertility rate ranges from 1.8 in Addis Ababa to 7.2 in the Somali region with the percentage of women aged 15-19 who have begun childbearing ranging from 3% in Addis Ababa to 23% in the Affar region.7

While the estimated global adolescent fertility rate has declined, the actual number of child births to adolescents has not, due to the large – and in some parts of the world, growing – population of young women in the 15–19 age group.8 The largest number of births occur in Eastern Asia (95,153) and Western Africa (70,423).9


Adolescent pregnancies are a global problem occurring in high-, middle-, and low-income countries. Around the world, however, adolescent pregnancies are more likely to occur in marginalized communities, commonly driven by poverty and lack of education and employment opportunities.10

Several factors contribute to adolescent pregnancies and births. In many societies, girls are under pressure to marry and bear children early.11,12,13 In least developed countries, at least 39% of girls marry before they are 18 years of age and 12% before the age of 15.14 In many places girls choose to become pregnant because they have limited educational and employment prospects. Often, in such societies, motherhood is valued and marriage or union and childbearing may be the best of the limited options available.12

Adolescents who may want to avoid pregnancies may not be able to do so due to knowledge gaps and misconceptions on where to obtain contraceptive methods and how to use them.15 Adolescents face barriers to accessing contraception including restrictive laws and policies regarding provision of contraceptive based on age or marital status, health worker bias and/or lack of willingness to acknowledge adolescents’ sexual health needs, and adolescents’ own inability to access contraceptives because of knowledge, transportation, and financial constraints. Additionally, adolescents may lack the agency or autonomy to ensure the correct and consistent use of a contraceptive method.  At least 10 million unintended pregnancies occur each year among adolescent girls aged 15-19 years in developing regions.1

An additional cause of unintended pregnancy is sexual violence, which is widespread with more than a third of girls in some countries reporting that their first sexual encounter was coerced.16

Health consequences

Early pregnancies among adolescents have major health consequences for adolescent mothers and their babies. Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15–19 years globally, with low- and middle-income countries accounting for 99% of global maternal deaths of women aged 15–49 years.3 Adolescent mothers aged 10–19 years face higher risks of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis and systemic infections than women aged 20–24 years. 4 Additionally, some 3.9 million unsafe abortions among girls aged 15–19 years occur each year, contributing to maternal mortality, morbidity and lasting health problems.1

Early childbearing can increase risks for newborns as well as young mothers. Babies born to mothers under 20 years of age face higher risks of low birth weight, preterm delivery and severe neonatal conditions.4 In some settings, rapid repeat pregnancy is a concern for young mothers, as it presents further health risks for both the mother and the child.17

Social and economic consequences

Social consequences for unmarried pregnant adolescents may include stigma, rejection or violence by partners, parents and peers. Girls who become pregnant before the age of 18 years are more likely to experience violence within a marriage or partnership.16 Adolescent pregnancy and childbearing often leads girls to drop out of school, although efforts are underway is some place to enable them to return to school after child birth, this may well jeopardize girls’ future education and employment opportunities.19

WHO response

During the early part of the Millennium Development Goals era, prevention of adolescent pregnancy and related mortality and morbidity and prevention of HIV and HIV related mortality in adolescents and young people were not given sufficient attention due to competing priorities.20 During this period, WHO worked with partners to advocate for attention to adolescents, to build the evidence and epidemiologic base for action such as “WHO’s Guidelines for preventing early pregnancy and poor reproductive outcomes in adolescents in developing countries”,21 to develop and test programme support tools, to build capacity, and to pilot initiatives in the small but growing number of countries that recognised the need to address adolescent health. As the world has transitioned to the Sustainable Development Goals era, adolescents have moved to the centre of the global health and development agenda.21

While WHO continues its work on advocacy, evidence generation, tool development and capacity building, the focus has shifted to strengthening country-level action. WHO works closely with partners within and outside the United Nations system to contribute to the global effort to prevent children becoming wives and mothers. WHO works to strengthen the evidence base for action, and to support the application of the evidence through well-designed and well-executed national and subnational programmes. For example, WHO works closely with the UNICEF, UNFPA and UNWomen on a global programme to accelerate action to end child marriage.22 It also collaborates with Family Planning 2020 ─ a global partnership working to enable 120 million more women and girls access contraceptives by 2020.

Nongovernmental organizations have been at forefront of efforts to prevent adolescent pregnancy in many countries through bold and innovative projects. There is now a small but growing number of successful government-led national programmes e.g. in Chile, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom.23 These countries show what can been achieved with the application of good science combined with strong leadership, management, and perseverance. They challenge and inspire other countries to do what is doable and what urgently needs to be done – now.

What is Teenage Pregnancy Causes and Effects

Teenage pregnancy is when a woman under 20 gets pregnant. It usually refers to teens between the ages of 15-19. But it can include girls as young as 10. It’s also called teen pregnancy or adolescent pregnancy.

In the U.S., teen birth rates and number of births to teen mothers have dropped steadily since 1990. In 2018, just under 180,000 infants were born to teens 15 to 19 years old. Teen birth rates have fallen by 70% in the past 3 decades. That trend is driven both by the fact that fewer teenagers are having sex and that more of them use birth control when they do.

Even so, a much higher share of American teens get pregnant than girls in other developed countries. And the pace of the decline in teen pregnancy in the U.S. differs by race. Non-Hispanic Black girls and Native American girls have seen much slower drops in teen pregnancy compared to Asian American girls.

Here’s what to know about common early signs of pregnancy, how to have a healthy pregnancy at a young age, and information that will help you understand teenage pregnancy.

Teenage Pregnancy Symptoms

Missing one or more menstrual periods is the classic sign of pregnancy. But this can be tricky for teenage girls, whose periods aren’t yet regular. It can also be tricky for girls whose cycles are off as a result of dieting or exercise, low body fat from sports, or anorexia.

The full list of pregnancy signs includes:

  • A missed menstrual period
  • Nausea or vomiting — called “morning sickness,” though it can happen throughout the day
  • Sudden, intense aversion to certain foods, especially meats or fatty, fried foods
  • Sore nipples or breasts
  • Unusual fatigue
  •  Frequent urination
  • Unusual mood swings
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Weight gain
  • Swelling belly

A positive pregnancy test is another sign of pregnancy. Today’s home pregnancy tests are generally considered accurate. These simple kits can be bought over the counter in drugstores.

Teenage Pregnancy Risks

Pregnant teens and their unborn babies have unique medical risks.

Lack of prenatal care

Pregnant teens are at risk of not getting the right prenatal care, especially if they don’t have support from their parents. Prenatal care is critical, especially in the first months of pregnancy. Prenatal care looks for medical problems in both mother and baby, monitors the baby’s growth, and deals quickly with any complications that arise. Prenatal vitamins with folic acid — ideally taken before getting pregnant — are essential in preventing certain birth defects such as neural tube defects.

High blood pressure

Pregnant teens have a higher risk of getting high blood pressure — called pregnancy-induced hypertension — than pregnant women in their 20s or 30s. They also have a higher risk of preeclampsia. This is a dangerous medical condition that combines high blood pressure with excess protein in the urine, swelling of a mother’s hands and face, and organ damage.

These medical risks affect the pregnant teen, who may need to take medications to control symptoms. But they can also disrupt the unborn baby’s growth. And they can lead to further pregnancy complications such as premature birth.

Premature birth

A full-term pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. A baby that delivers before 37 weeks is a premature baby, or “preemie.” In some cases, premature labor that begins too early in pregnancy can be stopped by medications. Other times, the baby has to be delivered early for the health of the mother or infant. The earlier a baby is born, the more risk there is of respiratory, digestive, vision, cognitive, and other problems.

Low-birth-weight baby

Teens are at higher risk of having low-birth-weight babies. Premature babies are more likely to weigh less than they should. In part, that’s because they’ve had less time in the womb to grow. A low-birth-weight baby weighs only 3.3 to 5.5 pounds. A very-low-birth-weight baby weighs less than 3.3 pounds. Babies that small may need to be put on a ventilator in a hospital’s neonatal care unit for help with breathing after birth.

STDs (sexually transmitted diseases)

For teens who have sex during pregnancySTDs such as chlamydia and HIV are a major concern. Using a latex condom during intercourse may help prevent STDs, which can infect the uterus and growing baby.

Postpartum depression

Pregnant teens may be at higher risk of postpartum depression (depression that starts after delivering a baby), according to the CDC. Girls who feel down and sad, either while pregnant or after the birth, should talk openly with their doctors or someone else they trust. Depression can interfere with taking good care of a newborn — and with healthy teenage development — but it can be treated.

Risks to teenage boys

Teen fathers are up to 30% less likely to finish high school than other teenage boys. Worries about their partners’ health, limited money, educational challenges, and other stresses can take a mental, physical, and financial toll on some would-be teen fathers.

Feeling Alone and Isolated

Especially for teens who think they can’t tell their parents they’re pregnant, feeling scared, isolated, and alone can be a real problem. Without the support of family or other adults, pregnant teens are less likely to eat well, exercise, or get plenty of rest. And they are less likely to get to their regular prenatal visits. Having at least one trusted, supportive adult — someone nearby in the community, if not a family member — is invaluable in helping them get the prenatal care and emotional support they need to stay healthy during this time.

Teenage Pregnancy Diagnosis

You usually can check if you’re pregnant with a home test from the first day you miss your period. All pregnancy tests check for a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG).

The home tests check for hCG in your pee. You also can get a blood test at your doctor’s office. The advantage with checking your blood is that it can tell you if you’re pregnant about a week earlier than home kits. Both home and office tests are very accurate, especially if the results say you’re pregnant.

Most states allow minors (almost always defined as someone under 18) the right to seek pregnancy care without notifying their parents. And doctors must keep confidential any information about minors who are pregnant unless they have a legal reason, such as if the teen is a danger to themselves.

Teenage Pregnancy Health Risk Prevention

If you are a teenager who is pregnant, here is how to ensure a healthy pregnancy:

  • Get early prenatal care. Call your doctor for your first prenatal visit as soon as you think you might be pregnant. If you can’t afford to see a doctor, ask your school nurse or counselor to help you find a low-cost clinic and other resources. For example, they can help you find state Medicaid or WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) programs.
  • Stay away from alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes. These harm an unborn baby more than they harm a growing teenager. If you’re not able to quit by yourself, ask for help from someone you trust.
  • Take a prenatal vitamin with at least 0.4 mg of folic acid every day to help prevent birth defects. Ideally, this should start before you get pregnant.
  • Ask for emotional support. Motherhood brings untold emotional and practical challenges — especially for teens still in school. Reach out to others — your friends, family, the baby’s father — for emotional and practical support.

For teenagers who are healthy, chances are good of delivering a healthy, strong baby — especially with early prenatal care and a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy.

Teenage Pregnancy Prevention

The surest way to avoid pregnancy is not to have sex. Or if you do have sex, to always use contraception.

The most effective birth control for teenagers is long-acting reversible contraception (LARC). They include implants that go under the skin in your arm or intrauterine devices that your doctor inserts into your uterus. LARCs work 99% of the time to prevent conception. They work for 3-10 years and can be taken out when you want to try to start a family.

If you use birth control pills, condoms, or other forms of contraception, learn how to use them right and follow instructions.

Talk to your parents or trusted adults about how to get birth control if you’re sexually active.

Ask your doctor, your public health center, or a Planned Parenthood clinic for guidance and prescription for birth control. Most nonprofit and community health centers offer care for free or on a sliding-fee scale based on your income.

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