Teenage Pregnancy - Fact Sheet

Facts you should know about teenage pregnancy
While teenage birth rates in this country remain high, they have gradually fallen since 1991. This drop follows substantial increases during the late 1980s. Recent statistics show that teen birth rates remain higher than they were during the early to mid-1980s, and continue to exceed 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. The birth rate for young teens (ages 15 to 17) is slowly declining. Between 1991 and 1995,
                the rate fell by 7 percent (from 38.7 per 1,000 women to 36). However, in 1995 (the most
                recent year for which data are available) nearly 4 girls in 100 ages 15 to 17 had a baby.
            2. Almost 1 million teenagers become pregnant each year, and more than 512,000 give birth.

           3. Slightly over 13 percent of all U.S. births in 1995 were to teens. Birth rates for teens ages
                15 to 19 years dropped nearly 9 percent between 1991 and 1995 (from 62.1 per 1,000 teens to 56.8).

Health risks to a teenage mother
Teens too often have poor eating habits, neglect to take a daily multivitamin, 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), which increases the risk of having a low-birthweight baby.

Pregnant teens are least likely of all maternal age groups to get early and regular prenatal care. In 1995, 7.6 percent of mothers ages 15 to 19 years received late or no prenatal care (compared to 4.2 percent for all ages).

A teenage mother is more at risk of pregnancy complications such as premature labor, anemia, high blood pressure, and placental problems. 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 chlamydia (which can cause sterility), syphilis (which can cause blindness, deaf, and death to the infant) and AIDS, which is fatal to the mother and can infect the infant.

Health risks to the baby
A baby born to a teenage mother is more at risk than a baby born to an older mother.
            1. In 1995, 9.3 percent of mothers ages 15 to 19 years had a low-birthweight baby
                (under 5.5 pounds), compared to 7.3 percent for mothers of all ages. The risk is
                highest for the youngest mothers: 13.5 percent of mothers under 15 years of age
                had a low-birthweight baby in 1995.
            2. 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.
            3. Low-birthweight babies are 40 times more likely to die in their first month of life than
                normal-weight babies.

Consequences of teenage pregnancy
Life is often difficult for a teenage mother and her child.
            1. Teen mothers are more likely to drop out of high school than girls who delay childbearing.
            2. 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 half of unmarried teens
                receive welfare at some time within two years of giving birth.
           3. Teens may not have developed good parenting skills, or have social support systems
                to help them deal with the stress of raising an infant.
            4. Children whose mothers were age 17 or younger when they were born tend to
                have more school difficulties and poorer health than children whose mothers
                were 20 to 21 when they were born.

The March of Dimes birth defects faundation
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. Teens who already are pregnant can improve their chances of having a healthy baby by:
            1. Getting early and regular prenatal care from a health care provider or clinic.
            2. Eating a nutritious and balanced diet.
            3. Consuming 400 micrograms of folic acid (the amount found in most multivitamin
                supplements) daily to reduce the risk of serious birth defects of the brain and spine.
            4. Avoiding smoking (and secondhand smoke) and alcoholic beverages.
            5. Avoiding all drugs, unless recommended by a health care provider who is aware of the pregnancy.

Programs and educational materials relating to teen pregnancy are available from the March of Dimes, including the brochures, "Teens Talk Sex," "Teens Talk Drugs" and "AlDS...What We Need to Know" and the "Clear Vision" and "Rockabye" audiovisuals, which are aimed at the junior high and high school audience. Contact your local March of Dimes chapter for ordering information.