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Adolescent pregnancy

Definition

Adolescent pregnancy is pregnancy in girls age 19 or younger.

Alternative Names

Teenage pregnancy; Pregnancy - teenage

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Adolescent pregnancy and babies born to adolescents have dropped since reaching an all-time high in 1990. This is mostly due to the increased use of condoms.

Adolescent pregnancy is a complex issue with many reasons for concern. Kids age 12 - 14 years old are more likely than other adolescents to have unplanned sexual intercourse . They are more likely to be talked into having into sex.

Up to two-thirds of adolescent pregnancies occur in teens age 18 - 19 years old.

Risk factors for adolescent pregnancy include:

  • Younger age
  • Poor school performance
  • Economic disadvantage
  • Older male partner
  • Single or teen parents

Symptoms

Pregnancy symptoms include:

Signs and tests

The adolescent may or may not admit to being involved sexually. If the teen is pregnant, there are usually weight changes (usually a gain, but there may be a loss if nausea and vomiting are significant). Examination may show increased abdominal girth, and the health care provider may be able to feel the fundus (the top of the enlarged uterus).

Pelvic examination may reveal bluish or purple coloration of vaginal walls, bluish or purple coloration and softening of the cervix, and softening and enlargement of the uterus.

Treatment

All options made available to the pregnant teen should be considered carefully, including abortion, adoption, and raising the child with community or family support. Discussion with the teen may require several visits with a health care provider to explain all options in a non-judgmental manner and involve the parents or the father of the baby as appropriate.

Early and adequate prenatal care, preferably through a program that specializes in teenage pregnancies, ensures a healthier baby. Pregnant teens need to be assessed for smoking, alcohol use, and drug use, and they should be offered support to help them quit.

Adequate nutrition can be encouraged through education and community resources. Appropriate exercise and adequate sleep should also be emphasized. Contraceptive information and services are important after delivery to prevent teens from becoming pregnant again.

Pregnant teens and those who have recently given birth should be encouraged and helped to remain in school or reenter educational programs that give them the skills to be better parents, and provide for their child financially and emotionally. Accessible and affordable child care is an important factor in teen mothers continuing school or entering the work force.

Expectations (prognosis)

Having her first child during adolescence makes a woman more likely to have more children overall. Teen mothers are about 2 years behind their age group in completing their education. Women who have a baby during their teen years are more likely to live in poverty.

Teen mothers with a history of substance abuse are more likely to start abusing by about 6 months after delivery.

Teen mothers are more likely than older mothers to have a second child within 2 years of their first child.

Infants born to teenage mothers are at greater risk for developmental problems. Girls born to teen mothers are more likely to become teen mothers themselves, and boys born to teen mothers have a higher than average rate of being arrested and jailed.

Complications

Adolescent pregnancy is associated with higher rates of illness and death for both the mother and infant. Death from violence is the second leading cause of death during pregnancy for teens, and is higher in teens than in any other group.

Pregnant teens are at much higher risk of having serious medical complications such as:

Infants born to teens are 2 - 6 times more likely to have low birth weight than those born to mothers age 20 or older. Prematurity plays the greatest role in low birth weight, but intrauterine growth retardation (inadequate growth of the fetus during pregnancy) is also a factor.

Teen mothers are more likely to have unhealthy habits that place the infant at greater risk for inadequate growth, infection, or chemical dependence. The younger a mother is below age 20, the greater the risk of her infant dying during the first year of life.

It is very important for pregnant teens to have early and adequate prenatal care.

Calling your health care provider

Make an appointment with your health care provider if you have symptoms of pregnancy.

Your health care provider can also provide counseling regarding birth control methods, sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention, or pregnancy risk.

Prevention

There are many different kinds of teen pregnancy prevention programs.

  • Abstinence education programs encourage young people to wait to have sex until marriage, or until they are mature enough to handle sexual activity and a potential pregnancy in a responsible manner.
  • Knowledge-based programs focus on teaching kids about their bodies. It also provides detailed information about birth control and how to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Research shows knowledge-based programs help decrease teen pregnancy rates. Abstinence-only education without information about birth control does not.
  • Clinic-focused programs give kids easier access to information, counseling by health care providers, and birth control services. Many of these programs are offered through school-based clinics.
  • Peer counseling programs typically involve older teens, who encourage other kids to resist peer and social pressures to have sex. For teens who are already sexually active, peer counseling programs teach them relationship skills and give them information on how to get and successfully use birth control.

References

U.S. Teenage Pregnancy Statistics: Overall Trends, Trends by Race and Ethnicity and State-by-State Information. New York, NY: The Alan Guttmacher Institute; January 2010.

Elfenbein DS, Felice ME. Adolescent pregnancy. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 112.

Kohler PK, Manhart LE, Lafferty WE. Abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education and the initiation of sexual activity and teen pregnancy. J Adolesc Health. 2008;42:344-351.

Abma JC et al., Teenagers in the United States: sexual activity, contraceptive use, and childbearing, National Survey of Family Growth 2006–2008, Vital and Health Statistics, 2010, Series 23, No. 30.


Review Date: 9/12/2011
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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