The good news is that teen pregnancy in the U.S. has been declining since the 1990s. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy, in 2013 the pregnancy rates of teen girls ages 15-19 was just over 26 births per 1,000.
The bad news is that there are still many risks to teen girls during pregnancy and childbirth, and there are laws that make early marriage difficult.
Teen pregnancy risks
Most teen pregnancies are unplanned, and teen girls are typically not ready for the responsibility that pregnancy brings. First and foremost, they may not know how to take care of their bodies during pregnancy. Many may not know for many months that they are pregnant, or when they do find out they are pregnant they may hide it for quite a while. This means the teen pregnant mother-to-be may not take regular prenatal vitamins or get proper prenatal care from a doctor. Others may worry about costs, not realizing that many states offer programs for teen mothers to get care. Unfortunately, pregnant teenagers are at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure and preeclampsia during pregnancy, which can negatively affect the teen mother’s health if it goes unchecked.
More teen births possible
Teen mothers who already have one baby are five times more likely to have a second baby during their teen years than older mothers.
Death of teen mothers in childbirth
For those who give birth before they turn 15, unfortunately they are at a higher risk of death in childbirth than women 20+. The number is pretty high—in fact they are five times more likely to die. For older teenage girls aged 15-19, there are risks as well. About 70,000 of pregnant teens in that age range die each year from childbirth complications.
Risks to baby in childbirth
Teen mothers are more likely to give birth prematurely, before the baby is ready to enter the world. This increases the baby’s chances of death or other issues at birth, such as respiratory, vision and developmental delays. Teen mothers also are more likely to give birth to babies with low birth weight (premature babies can be low birth weight babies, but so can some full term babies). Babies with low birth weight typically have a harder chance of thriving at birth and may need extra help and maybe even time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Higher likelihood of STDs
Teens who are sexually active have a high risk of contracting STDs, which can risk the health of the teen, and if the teen becomes pregnant, the STD can harm the baby as well. Sexually active teens should always use condoms to prevent the likelihood of contracting an STD.
According to the Center for Disease Control, teen mothers are at a higher risk of developing postpartum depression. They may feel isolated, or not ready for this life change, and may not know that they are having a problem or where to get help. Teen girls who feel depressed should talk to their doctor about treatment options so they can better care for themselves and their babies.
Pressure to get married young
When teen girls face the prospect of having a baby, there are many options to consider. If they are not considering giving the baby up for adoption, or will not likely get support in helping raise the baby from parents, then the girl may feel the only option is to marry the baby’s father. While sometimes these marriages do work out long-term, many times they do not. The teen girl isn’t likely ready for the responsibility of caring for a baby or the commitment of a marriage. If the father is also quite young, he may not have the experience or maturity to financially or emotionally support a new wife and baby.
Dropping out of school
When teen girls get pregnant, have a baby and even get married, many times school is just too hard to continue. Many teen mothers end up dropping out of school—perhaps meaning to only short term, but the longer they are out of school the harder it is to go back. With so many demands of a new baby and possibly a new marriage, they focus more on supporting this new family than thinking about a higher education.
Laws can limit teen marriage
While some new teen parents may want to get married, laws in different states can make things a little difficult. For example, in Alabama for teens who are 15-17 years old (bring a birth certificate), parents must be present (with ID), and have a court order. In other states the minimum age to get married is 16. In some states you don’t need your parents to be present. Be sure to read the laws in your state so you fully understand what is required and age limitations.
Teen mothers comprise a smaller segment of the population these days than just 20 or 30 years ago, but of those who are still giving birth young, there are many risks. Teen mothers face risks during pregnancy and childbirth, and the baby faces risks as well. Also, teen mothers may also want to marry young, and even that can be limited by law.