Teenage Pregnancy

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Overview

Teenage pregnancy is a complex issue with far-reaching implications for the physical and financial well-being of the adolescent mother and her family and society. Although teenage pregnancy incidence has declined worldwide, it is still a major health concern in middle and low-income countries.1

Did you know that teenage pregnancies in the UK have decreased by 62% since 1988? Despite this, the country still has the highest number of teenage pregnancies compared to Western European countries.2

Despite various social and health programs, there are still a significant number of teenage pregnancies in the UK. This suggests that the traditional approach to addressing this complex matter needs to be revised.2

This article offers a thorough understanding of the prevalence, risk factors, and enduring outcomes of pregnancy on the well-being of the teenager.

What is teenage pregnancy?

Pregnancy occurring at the age of 19 or younger is commonly known as teenage pregnancy or adolescent pregnancy.

Prevalence of teen pregnancy

  • Approximately 21 million teenagers become pregnant every year in developing regions, and 12 million give birth to the child
  • In Africa, around 30% of pregnancies occur among teenagers1
  • Teenage pregnancy accounts for about 33% of maternal deaths1
  • An estimated 55% of unintended pregnancies among teenage girls result in abortions

Factors contributing to teen pregnancy

Due to the significant changes in the societal, economic, and demographic landscape, teenage pregnancy is a major concern in the UK. The following are some of the key factors that affect the prevalence of teenage pregnancy:1,2,3,4

  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Lack of formal education, including the absence of sex education in schools or limited knowledge about contraception
  • Engaging in sexual activity at an early age
  • Lack of reproductive health services and inadequate access to contraceptive methods
  • Cultural beliefs, traditions and societal pressure
  • Poor family dynamics and decreased parental supervision can lead to the risk of teenage pregnancy
  • Child marriage
  • Children born to teenage mothers and children with single parents are more vulnerable to sexual exposure at an early age
  • Increase accessibility to pornography and social media
  • Substance abuse like alcohol and drugs may lead to unwarranted pregnancies

Dealing with problems associated with teenage pregnancy calls for a comprehensive strategy due to the various factors involved.

Impact of teen pregnancy

Teenage pregnancy is often unplanned and unwanted and therefore has a prolonged impact on the mother, child, and society as a whole. It is possible that such teen pregnancies can lead to unsafe delivery or death of the mother and child in countries where abortion is prohibited.

Health issues faced by teenage mother1,5

  • Increased risk of eclampsia, anaemia, and haemorrhage
  • Incidence of abortion, preterm delivery or maternal deaths
  • Some adolescent pregnancy is associated with prolonged labour and caesarean section
  • Mental health conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorders are common during pregnancy and after childbirth

Risk to a newborn child1,5

  • Neonatal death is common among children born to teenage mothers
  • Low birth weight babies
  • Neonate may have sepsis, hyperbilirubinemia and respiratory distress syndrome.
  • Admission to the intensive care unit

Discontinuation of education

An increase in school drop-out rates and the inability to restart education after pregnancy due to socioeconomic factors is a common problem pregnant teens encounter.6

Social stigma

Social and cultural circumstances govern the capacity to avail the option for reproductive and sexual health. The adolescent mother may face social challenges due to cultural beliefs and patriarchal society that prevent them from family planning and birth spacing (refers to how soon a woman becomes pregnant again).

Furthermore, child marriages and forced marriages are also key contributors to this problem.1,5,6

Financial issues

Taking care of the household and raising children can be a challenging and demanding responsibility for a young and unprepared mother. They are dependent on their parents or relatives for their care. It is worsened by the lack of employment due to limited education by teenage mothers.6

Strained relationship

The vulnerable teens may face violence and sexual aggression by their partners.  Adolescent mothers who are unprepared and do not have sufficient knowledge of motherhood may negatively impact the well-being of their children and themselves.5,6

Lack of employment opportunity

It is likely that teenage mothers with limited education will face considerable constraints with regard to their employment prospects.6

Risk of repeated pregnancy

Lack of awareness regarding contraception and the failure to choose birth spacing can lead to subsequent pregnancies.5

The consequences of teenage pregnancy can be far-reaching. Therefore, it is important to have effective policies and support groups to ease the burden on all segments of society and prevent the exploitation of young mothers and their children.

Management of teenage pregnancy

If you think you had unprotected sex and missed your period, you must take a urine pregnancy test as soon as possible. If you choose to carry on with the pregnancy, you will be provided antenatal care to ensure a smooth pregnancy. However, if you do not wish to continue the pregnancy, then your general practitioner (GP) can refer you to the clinic or hospital for an abortion.

To ensure a safe pregnancy, the antenatal care offered in the UK includes antenatal screening tests, ultrasound scans, and blood tests for HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis.

Prevention of teenage pregnancy

Teen pregnancy is a critical subject that requires immediate attention. It is imperative to execute different plans that influence teenagers and create a welcoming environment to openly discuss this social problem within the community.

A successful reduction in teen conception in the UK would require a variety of approaches:

Sex education1,4,7

  • Comprehensive sexual education and school-based sexual health awareness to prevent unwanted pregnancy and school drop-out
  • Information regarding youth-friendly health clinics to empower the teenage population to delay sexual activity and use of contraception
  • Implementation of an evidence-based sexual health education approach rather than traditional approaches to address concerns related to teen pregnancy

Teen pregnancy prevention programs6,7

  • Skill-building plays and programs to engage with the partners regarding healthy sexual activity and fostering wholesome relationships
  • Programs offering job training, mentoring, scholarships and financial aid to attend colleges could help in supporting the high-risk group
  • Age-specific policies based on social and biological needs can help in better understanding the depth of the problem
  • Innovative approaches such as websites and online classes for sexual health education.

Sexual health clinics services 

Services offered by sexual health clinics includes:

  • Emergency contraception
  • Free condoms
  • Sexual health advice
  • Test for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections
  • Delivering support to those who are sexually assaulted

Mobilisation of stakeholders

There should be shared responsibilities among various stakeholders like policymakers, educational institutes and health sectors to find solutions for better management and prevention of teen pregnancy.7

Supportive environment: Parents and community engagement1,4

  • A healthy parent-children relationship can influence the sexual behaviour, sexual values and decision-making capacity of a teenage child
  • A free and open discussion within the family can prevent teenagers from indulging in high-risk behaviours
  • Involvement of community leaders to work on strategies to prevent teen pregnancy in a culturally acceptable way
  • Formulation of policies in the community to prevent child marriages

In the UK, the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Framework supports young people in developing safe and healthy relationships and avoiding unplanned pregnancies. This program is designed to evaluate local initiatives and prevention efforts in areas with higher teenage pregnancy rates.

FAQs

I am a pregnant teenager, what should I do first?

If you suspect you are pregnant, you can discuss it with your parents,guardian or someone you trust. In the UK, you can seek confidential advice from any of the following:

  • GP or the practice nurse
  • Sexual health clinic
  • National health services 111

What are the available options for a pregnant teen?

If you happen to be a pregnant teenager in the UK, you will be presented with a range of options to consider:

  • Whether to continue the pregnancy and keep the child
  • Go for an abortion to end the pregnancy
  • To ask for adoption after the childbirth

You can discuss the options available with your GP or sexual health advisor.

Summary

The prevalence of teen pregnancy has reduced in recent years, but it is still a  concern in low-income countries. The decision-making on sexual health and prioritising the option for reproductive health is governed by social, economic and cultural beliefs. Therefore, strengthening interventions such as laws to prevent child marriages, free contraception availability, abortion facilities, and school-based sex awareness programs can empower young women and avoid unwanted pregnancies. 

The significant risk factors for teenage pregnancy are lack of sex education, poor accessibility to healthcare services, absence of healthy parent-child relationships and strong belief in traditional customs. Additionally, it is crucial to foster a supportive environment for the pregnant teen to decide whether to continue or terminate the pregnancy.

Initiatives for economic independence, like training for skill development, job opportunities, and free education for teen mothers, can prevent further exploitation by the family or the partner. 

To reduce the incidence of teen pregnancy, traditional approaches must be replaced by integrated systems and targeted interventions for high-risk groups. Addressing the causes related to teen pregnancy necessitates collaboration between the family, community, healthcare services and policymakers.

References

  1. Eyeberu A, Getachew T, Sertsu A, Sisay M, Baye Y, Debella A, et al. Teenage pregnancy and its predictors in Africa: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Health Sci (Qassim). 2022;16(6):47–60.
  2. Aluga D, Okolie EA. Socioeconomic determinants of teenage pregnancy and early motherhood in the United Kingdom: A perspective. Health Promot Perspect [Internet]. 2021;11(4):426–9. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.34172/hpp.2021.52
  3. Ochen AM, Chi PC, Lawoko S. Predictors of teenage pregnancy among girls aged 13-19 years in Uganda: a community based case-control study. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth [Internet]. 2019;19(1):211. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12884-019-2347-y
  4. Mathewos S, Mekuria A. Teenage pregnancy and its associated factors among school adolescents of Arba Minch town, southern Ethiopia. Ethiop J Health Sci [Internet]. 2018;28(3):287. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/ejhs.v28i3.6
  5. Sezgin AU, Punamäki R-L. Impacts of early marriage and adolescent pregnancy on mental and somatic health: the role of partner violence. Arch Womens Ment Health [Internet]. 2020;23(2):155–66. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00737-019-00960-w
  6. Noori N, Proctor JL, Efevbera Y, Oron AP. The effect of adolescent pregnancy on child mortality in 46 low- and middle-income countries. BMJ Glob Health [Internet]. 2022;7(5):e007681. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjgh-2021-007681
  7. Brindis CD, Decker MJ, Gutmann-Gonzalez A, Berglas NF. Perspectives on adolescent pregnancy prevention strategies in the United States: Looking back, looking forward. Adolesc Health Med Ther [Internet]. 2020;11:135–45. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.2147/ahmt.s219949

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Rajni Sarma

MBBS, MD from North-Eastern Hill University, India
MSc in Molecular Pathology of Cancer, Queen's University, Belfast, UK

I worked as a medical doctor for almost eight years before applying to Queen’s University Belfast for MSc in Molecular Pathology of Cancer. My outstanding verbal and demonstrative skills have helped me to get distinction in my master’s program.

However, I found my true passion in medical writing. Therefore, after I graduated from Queen’s University, I decided not to join any laboratory but to restart my career as a medical writer.

The topics that intrigue me are haematology, oncology, rare diseases, immunology, gynaecology, molecular pathology, targeted therapy, and precision medicine. I am currently an intern at Klarity and a volunteer medical writer for a health and wellness website.

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