Obvious & Not-So-Obvious Risks Of Getting Pregnant As A Teen

It’s common to hear remarks about having a baby while younger is better. Not only is fertility often better at a younger age, but there’s also a decreased risk of pregnancy and labor complications. However, there is such a thing as being pregnant too young.

You may be surprised to learn that teenage pregnancies carry greater risk than those happening to women in their 20s and 30s. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 21 million girls between the ages of 15 to 19 get pregnant each year, while 12 million go on to give birth.


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However, pregnancy and childbirth complications are the leading cause of death among teenage girls of that age group in low- and middle-income countries. Additionally, nearly 4 million unsafe abortions are performed each year on teenage girls, raising the number of annual deaths.

There’s a lot of stigmas around teenage pregnancy, often because it’s seen as a shameful thing to get pregnant out of wedlock and by mistake. But what people forget is that adolescent pregnancies often occur because of a lack of awareness about safe sex or access to resources, like condoms and birth controls.

What’s important to know about teenage pregnancy, however, is the risks it can pose to both maternal and fetal health. Below, we outline some of the biggest risks associated with being a pregnant teen.

Premature Birth

Premature or pre-term delivery occurs when a baby is born before 37 weeks of gestation. It puts both the baby and mother at risk of a variety of health complications.

Research has found pregnant teenagers are at a higher risk of pre-term birth than women in their 20s and 20s. For example, between 2003 and 2005, 14.5% of pregnancies to women under 20 resulted in premature birth compared to 11.9% of pregnancies occurring in women aged 20 to 29.

Some short and long-term complications following a premature birth in offspring include:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Hearing issues
  • Blood problems
  • Cognitive issues
  • Impaired learning
  • Breathing problems
  • Learning difficulties
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Issues regulating metabolism
  • Temperature control problems

Limited Prenatal Care

There’s a lot of stigma and shame attached to teenage pregnancy. Unsure of how others will react or what she’ll do about the pregnancy, it’s not unheard of for teenagers to keep the news a secret. This can delay when they get prenatal care.

WebMD notes that prenatal care is especially critical in the first trimester, as it can diagnose issues with maternal and fetal health where early detection and treatment are often key. Without early prenatal care, a teenage mother is also unlikely to get the right vitamins, particularly folic acid, which is important for preventing birth defects.

High Blood Pressure

Teenagers have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure – also called hypertension – in pregnancy compared to women in their 20s and 30s. This can result in pre-eclampsia, and very high blood pressure after 20 weeks of gestation. It can lead to organ damage. It may also lead to eclampsia, which is seizures caused by high blood pressure.

High blood pressure can create other health problems in pregnancy, too, including:

  • Intrauterine growth restriction: the decreased growth of the fetus.
  • Placental abruption: when the placenta detaches from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery, which can cause heavy bleeding.
  • Decreased blood flow to the place: this deprives the baby of oxygen and nutrients, which can hinder growth and lead to low birth weight, pre-term delivery, and breathing problems
  • Preterm birth: early delivery before 27 weeks of gestation. Associated with complications in offspring like vision and hearing problems, impaired learning, and cerebral palsy.
  • Cardiovascular disease: can raise the risk of heart disease in mothers.

The earlier high blood pressure in pregnancy is caught and managed, the better the outcomes.

Low Birth Weight

Another complication associated with teenage pregnancy is low birth weight. This occurs when a baby is born weighing less than 2,500 grams (5 pounds, 8 ounces). To compare, the average newborn in the United States weighs 8 pounds at birth. Research has found that babies born to teen moms are more likely to be underweight, which has been attributed to a mix of biological and sociocultural factors.

There are a variety of complications in infants born with very low birth weight, including the following:

  • Infection
  • Deafness
  • Blindness
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Low oxygen levels
  • Developmental delays
  • Trouble gaining weight
  • Trouble regulating body temperature
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Nervous system problems (ie brain bleeding)
  • Digestive problems (ie necrotizing enterocolitis)

Postpartum Depression

Teenage pregnancy doesn’t just raise the risk of physical complications, but also mental health ones. Research has found that young mothers are more prone to developing postpartum depression (PDD). Some theories suggest this is because being pregnant as a teen can be an especially stressful and even shameful experience.

Symptoms of postpartum depression can include:

  • Restlessness
  • Binge-eating
  • Panic attacks
  • Severe anxiety
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Excessive crying
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Severe mood swings
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Difficulty bonding with a baby
  • Withdrawing from loved ones
  • Thoughts of harming self or baby
  • Inability to think, concentrate and make decisions

In some cases, postpartum depression can be mistaken for postpartum psychosis, which is a mental disorder that often exhibits symptoms in the weeks after giving birth. Its signs are a bit different and can include confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, excessive energy and agitation, and paranoia.

Lack Of Education

Having a baby at a young age can significantly limit future opportunities, especially in terms of education. One study found that teen mothers were 17% less likely to complete their high school education, and anywhere between 14%-19% less likely to receive a post-secondary education, like a university degree.

Risk Of Domestic Abuse

Research has found that having a baby as a teenager puts a woman at higher risk for experiencing domestic violence and abuse.

One study conducted by the University of Texas found:

  • 41% of young mothers had experienced domestic abuse
  • 21% said the abuse started within 3 months of giving birth
  • 62% of those respondents who experienced violence so quickly after having a baby described it as “severe.”

The average age of the study’s participants was 16-years-old.

If you have more questions about the risks of teenage pregnancy or want information about safe sex practices, we encourage you to reach out to your healthcare practitioner.

Sources: WebMD, Mayo Clinic, March of Dimes, Center 4 Research, Statistics Canada, CHOP, NIH, NIH, WHO,

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