Teenage pregnancy

Medical risks and realities

Most teenage girls don’t plan to get pregnant, but many do.  Teen pregnancies carry extra health risks to both the mother and the baby.

What is teenage pregnancy?

Teenage pregnancy is when a woman under 20 gets pregnant.  It usually refers to teens between the ages of 15 – 19.  But it can include girls as young as 10.  It’s also called teen pregnancy or adolescent pregnancy

Key facts

According to the WHO (31 January 2020)

  • Approximately 12 million girls aged 15 – 19 years and at least 777,000 girls under 15 years give birth each year in developing regions.
  • At least 10 million unintended pregnancies occur each year among adolescent girls aged 15 -19 years in the developing world.
  • Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for 15 – 19-year-old girls globally.
  • Of the estimated 5.6 million abortions that occur each year among adolescent girls aged 15 – 19 years, 3.9 million are unsafe, contributing to maternal mortality, morbidity and lasting health problems.

Medical risks associated with adolescent pregnancies

Often, teens don’t get prenatal care soon enough, which can lead to problems later on.  Adolescent pregnancy is also associated with an increased risk of maternal complications during pregnancy and delivery, as well as increased risk to the unborn baby and neonate.

Adolescent mothers (ages 10 – 19 years) face higher risks of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, and systemic infections than women aged 20 to 24 years.  Pregnant teens may be at higher risk of postpartum depression (depression that starts after delivering a baby) than other women.

Babies of adolescent mothers face higher risks of low birth weight, preterm delivery, severe neonatal conditions, and infant mortality.

Pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15 – 19 years globally, with low- and middle-income countries accounting for 99% of global maternal deaths of women aged 15 – 49 years.  In some settings, rapid repeat pregnancy is a concern for young mothers, as it presents further health risks for both the mother and the child.

For teens who have sex during pregnancy, STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) such as chlamydia and HIV are a major concern.  Using a latex condom during intercourse may help prevent STDs, which can infect the uterus and growing baby.

Social and economic consequences

Social consequences for unmarried pregnant adolescents include increased poverty, stigma, rejection or violence by partners, parents and peers.  Girls who become pregnant before the age of 18 years are more likely to experience violence within a marriage or partnership.  Adolescent pregnancy and childbearing often lead girls to drop out of school.  If a girl does return to school often the girls’ future education and employment opportunities will be jeopardized.