Teenage pregnancy, also known as adolescent pregnancy, is pregnancy in a female under the age of 20. Pregnancy can occur with sexual intercourse after the start of ovulation, which can be before the first mensuration period (menarche) but usually occurs after the onset of periods. In well-nourished girls, the first period usually takes place around the age of 12 or 13. Pregnant teenagers face many of the same pregnancy related issues as other women. There are additional concerns for those under the age of 15 as they are less likely to be physically developed to sustain a healthy pregnancy or to give birth. For girls aged 15–19, risks are associated more with socioeconomic factors than with the biological effects of age. Risks of low birth weight, premature labour, anemia, and pre-eclampsia are connected to biological age, , as they are observed in teen births even after controlling for other risk factors, such as access to prenatal care.
Teenage pregnancies are associated with social issues, including lower educational levels and poverty. Teenage pregnancy in developed countries is usually outside of marriage and is often associated with a social stigma. Teenage pregnancy in developing countries often occurs within marriage and half are planned. However, in these societies, early pregnancy may combine with malnutrition and poor health care to cause medical problems. When used in combination, educational interventions and access to birth control can reduce unintended teenage pregnancies.
Teenage pregnancy (with conceptions normally involving girls between age 16 and 19), was far more normal in previous centuries, and common in developed countries in the 20th century. Among Norwegian women born in the early 1950s, nearly a quarter became teenage mothers by the early 1970s. However, the rates have steadily declined throughout the developed world since that 20th century peak. Among those born in Norway in the late 1970s, less than 10% became teenage mothers, and rates have fallen since then.
In United States, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 included the objective of reducing the number of young Black and Latina single mothers on welfare, which became the foundation for teenage pregnancy prevention in the United States and the founding of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, now known as Power to Decide.
Being a young mother in a first world country can affect one’s education. Teen mothers are more likely to drop out of high school. One study in 2001 found that women that gave birth during their teens completed secondary-level school 10–12% as often and pursued post-secondary 14–29% as often as women who waited until age 30. Young motherhood in an industrialized country can affect employment and social class. Teenage women who are pregnant or mothers are seven times more likely to commit suicide than other teenagers.
According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, nearly 1 in 4 teen mothers will experience another pregnancy within two years of having their first. Pregnancy and giving birth significantly increases the chance that these mothers will become high school dropouts and as many as half have to go on welfare. Many teen parents do not have the intellectual or emotional maturity that is needed to provide for another life. Often, these pregnancies are hidden for months resulting in a lack of adequate prenatal care and dangerous outcomes for the babies. Factors that determine which mothers are more likely to have a closely spaced repeat birth include marriage and education: the likelihood decreases with the level of education of the young woman or her parents and increases if she gets married.
Early motherhood can affect the psycho-social development of the infant. The children of teen mothers are more likely to be born prematurely with a low birth weight, predisposing them to many other lifelong conditions. Children of teen mothers are at higher risk of intellectual, language, and socio-emotional delays. Developmental disabilities and behavioral issues are increased in children born to teen mothers. One study suggested that adolescent mothers are less likely to stimulate their infant through affectionate behaviors such as touch, smiling, and verbal communication, or to be sensitive and accepting toward his or her needs. Another found that those who had more social support were less likely to show anger toward their children or to rely upon punishment.
Poor academic performance in the children of teenage mothers has also been noted, with many of the children being held back a grade level, scoring lower on standardized tests, and/or failing to graduate from secondary school. Daughters born to adolescent are more likely to become teen mothers themselves. Sons born to teenage mothers are three times more likely to serve time in prison.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “Pregnancies among girls less than 18 years of age have irreparable consequences. It violates the rights of girls, with life-threatening consequences in terms of sexual and reproductive health, and poses high development costs for communities, particularly in perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Health consequences include not yet being physically ready for pregnancy and childbirth leading to complications and malnutrition as the majority of adolescents tend to come from lower-income households. The risk of maternal death for girls under age 15 in low and middle income countries is higher than for women in their twenties. Teenage pregnancy also affects girls’ education and income potential as many are forced to drop out of school which ultimately threatens future opportunities and economic prospects.
Several studies have examined the socioeconomic, medical, and psychological impact of pregnancy and parenthood in teens. Life outcomes for teenage mothers and their children vary; other factors, such as poverty or social support, may be more important than the age of the mother at the birth. Many solutions to counteract the more negative findings have been proposed. Teenage parents who can rely on family and community support, social services and child-care support are more likely to continue their education and get higher paying jobs as they progress with their education.
A holistic approach is required in order to address teenage pregnancy. This means not focusing on changing the behavior of girls but addressing the underlying reasons of adolescent pregnancy such as poverty, gender inequality, social pressures and coercion. This approach should include “providing age-appropriate Character-Based Abstinence education for all young people, investing in girls’ education, preventing child marriage, sexual violence and coercion, building gender-equitable societies by empowering girls so as to have solid means of livelihood that can help to curb poverty and the likes.