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The High Risk of Teen Pregnancies

By now, almost everyone has seen or heard of the MTV show 16 and Pregnant, which documents the pregnancies and deliveries of teen moms. The show demonstrates the reality of teen pregnancy and has actually been credited with some of the recent decline in births to teenage moms. But other than the social ramifications, why does the medical professional consider teen pregnancies high risk?

Each year, about 750,000 teens aged 15–19 get pregnant and approximately 435,000 of them continue the pregnancy and give birth. The United States has the highest teen birth rate out of comparable industrialized nations. And one-third of these teen moms are themselves the product of teen pregnancy.

Teenagers who are pregnant and give birth are at higher risk for many pregnancy-related complications. They are more likely to develop high blood pressure or preeclampsia and are also more likely to experience anemia (low red blood cell counts). Their risk of preterm delivery is also higher. Nutritionally, they are more likely to have a poorer diet and nutritional status. Having a baby who is too small or has a low birth weight is more common in adolescents as well. Teens are also more likely to smoke during pregnancy.

Babies born to teen moms have more complications, too. They are more likely to be admitted to the hospital as children and are at a three-fold risk for neonatal death. Rates of developmental delay, behavioral problems, depression, substance abuse, and early sexual activity are higher in this group. Remember, their rates of teen pregnancy are much higher as well.

These complications extend far beyond the medical realm. Teens are less likely to be compliant with prenatal care and may miss important opportunities for screening and counseling. They tend to be more socially isolated, have fewer educational and employment opportunities, and have higher rates of domestic violence.

Teen pregnancy issues are not necessarily related to socioeconomic status or access to prenatal care. One study looked at a group of young teen moms who lived in Utah. These teen moms were married, educated, and received adequate care. Even in this group, the rates of preterm delivery and low birth weight babies were still higher. It may be that in adolescents the body is more concerned with mom’s growth and development so that fewer nutrients are being supplied to the growing fetus.

Educationally, teen moms lag behind as well. Only 22 percent of teen moms will receive their high school diploma or GED, and only 2 percent will graduate from college. This has a negative effect on their ability to earn a good income in the future.


  • The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
  • FAQ103: Especially for Teens: Having a Baby.
    The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
  • Adolescent Facts: Pregnancy, birth, and STDs.
  • teenage pregnancies, birth and abortions: National and state trends and trends by race and ethnicity.”  Guttmacher Institute
  • January 2010
  • Web
  • 1 May 2011.
    Bakker R et al
  • Explaining differences in birth outcomes in relation to maternal age: the Generation R study
  • BJOG 2011; 500-508.
    Sandal G et al
  • The admission rate in neonatal intensive care units of newborns born to adolescent mothers
  • J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med 2010; 1-3

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