Bringing a life into the world is for many people one of the most beautiful experiences of their lives. Now, this is true for those who have wanted to have a child and are prepared for it, people who have matured and planned the conception of a son or daughter.
Other people are in a situation where they get pregnant by accident, or that although they want to have children in the future they are not yet ready for it. This is the case of adolescent pregnancies , which can have great repercussions for the person who remains in the state. It is about this state that we are going to talk about throughout this article.
We consider a pregnancy to be adolescent when it occurs between 10 and 19 years of chronological age , regardless of the level of physical development of the adolescent in question. This stage of life is in itself a time of great change on all levels: the body grows and changes to pass from child to adult, our mind and cognitive skills are increasingly developed. However, the emotional environment and mental maturity usually take much longer to develop.
The adolescent is in a process of searching for identity , of knowing who he is and what his role in the world is. Little by little, they are going to face new demands and social experiences. Among them we find the first loves and relationships of a couple, and frequently also the first sexual relations. In fact, it is known that a high proportion of citizens started having sex before the age of 15.
However, in some cases these first experiences are highly impulsive and do not lead to experimentation that takes into account the risks of their actions, which in terms of sex can lead to early pregnancy. This happens all over the world, although it is more visible in developing countries or countries with a low level of education.
Pregnancy is the biological process through which an egg fertilized by a sperm develops and grows in the mother’s uterus for approximately nine months until the time of delivery. This process triggers a series of physical, organic and even psychological and behavioural changes in the mother, aimed at favouring this growth and the subsequent arrival of the new child into the world.
It is also a risky process, since it involves a heavy investment of resources by the mother’s body, and in a body still in formation, this can have serious risks. Likewise, even if having a child is successfully completed, it also implies a high level of responsibility and capacity, of such a level that an adolescent could hardly sustain it without any kind of help .
Why at such a young age? Risk factors
The young teenager has a functional reproductive system and is capable of becoming pregnant, which means that if there is any kind of sexual relationship at this age there is a risk of becoming pregnant.
Although some adolescents become pregnant in a conscious and planned way , most teenage pregnancies occur in the context of an unplanned incident , either because they have not used any type of protection or because it has been used ineffectively or has broken/ failed. Thus, in most cases we are dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.
In this sense, although finding a single cause of why they occur is not viable (since it is a multi-causal phenomenon), it is necessary to take into account that there are multiple risk factors that can influence the occurrence of a pregnancy in adolescence.
The first of these is the age of onset of sexual relations . In this sense, it has been observed that adolescents with a sexual initiation at the age of twelve or thirteen have a probability that can exceed 90% of becoming pregnant during adolescence.
Another risk factor that is closely linked to the above is the presence of non-existent or poorly integrated sex education, in which sex is a taboo of which nothing is known or of which the risks and possible consequences are unknown. Likewise, not knowing the existence or how to use prophylactic methods, the low availability or high price of these or the underestimation of their importance is also often a risk factor.
Other common risk factors are educational and economic level , in which it has been observed that there is a greater tendency towards adolescent pregnancy in populations with fewer resources and access to education.
In addition, the consumption of alcohol and/or other psychoactive substances encourages unprotected relationships. Social exclusion, lack of life goals or hope of improving one’s situation, or suffering from some disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder also facilitate this.
Another element to take into account is that exposure to a parental model in which children have been had as adolescents also facilitates replicating that model, as well as cultural or religious beliefs in which the role of women is to give birth from youth. Also the absence of support from the family , that it is dysfunctional, that there is negligence, abandonment or lack of affection are risk factors. The same occurs if the woman is immersed in a context where violence or contradiction regarding sex is abundant.
Finally, it should be noted that some teenagers become pregnant after having been sexually abused or raped in some way. In addition, in some cases, people who have experienced it in childhood may have normalized sexual contact at a young age, and these cases carry a higher risk of teenage pregnancy. Child marriages also often lead to teenage pregnancies.
Biological consequences and complications of pregnancy at this stage
Regardless of how the pregnancy has occurred, when it occurs in adolescence, the pregnant girl finds herself in a situation considered to be high risk for both the baby and herself , since although biologically her body is capable of conceiving, her physical development is not yet complete.
Among the different risks at the biological level we can find the possibility of suffering from anaemia that can complicate the health of the mother and the foetus, the appearance of miscarriages (whose probability is considerably higher than in an adult) or premature births or infections.
Also, although it may vary depending on the health measures available in the locality where you live, a pregnancy before the age of fifteen doubles the risk of dying during childbirth in relation to adult women (in fact, it is one of the most common causes of death among adolescents). Postpartum bleeding and hemorrhage is more likely to occur .
It is also common to have high blood pressure, as well as an increased likelihood of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. In addition, the mother’s own growth may stop or slow down to such an extent that short stature and obesity may occur.
Babies born to teenagers are at greater risk of being born underweight and prematurely, and compared to babies born to fully formed adults, these babies have a higher proportion of intellectual disability, malformations, developmental problems or neural tube defects, and are more likely to die before the first year from sudden death. Likewise it is more common for them to have minor infections .
Psychic and social repercussions
In addition, getting pregnant during adolescence also has great psychological and social repercussions. To begin with, a teenage pregnancy often meets with a reaction from family, friends and the social environment in general can be very aversive to the young woman. She may feel or even be really rejected by her closest environment and pressured to make a decision .
They are also in a situation where they are more likely to experience academic problems and school failure, and are more difficult to access higher education or to reach jobs requiring higher education. Their employment is often more precarious and they tend to have worse economic and social conditions.
Likewise, a decision must be made regarding whether to continue with the gestation or to carry it out , both having repercussions on the psyche of the adolescent and a social effect on her environment. In many cases adolescents do not feel capable of becoming mothers, and rejection of the baby may occur once the baby is born.
There is also an increased risk of falling into drug use and antisocial acts as well as suffering from depression, anxiety, uncertainty and problems with self-esteem and social adjustment.
In addition, a teenager who is pregnant by another teenager may encounter serious relationship problems or even be abandoned, since it has been shown that teenagers tend to view such a pregnancy as a limitation to their future. In general, according to several studies a majority of adolescents in such a situation tend to opt for an abortion .
Pregnancy prevention and prophylaxis
Teenage pregnancy is, as we have already said, a considerable risk for both mother and future baby. This is why it is necessary to establish different measures in order to prevent it from occurring, as well as to protect and prevent pregnant minors from suffering harm .
The first step in this direction is the establishment of educational policies and plans that integrate sex education into the classroom from an early age, so that work can be done on what sex is and the risks it can entail without protection (not only pregnancy but also venereal diseases) as well as explaining what prophylactic measures exist and how to use them. It emphasizes the importance of condom use.
It is important to make prophylaxis easily accessible to the entire population regardless of their economic ability. Also the increase of services dedicated to family planning and care of pregnant women can be of great help, as well as the facilities to obtain oral contraceptives in case of need.
At the family level, it is also very important to work on the issue of sexuality in such a way that the family allows the adolescent to express their fears and doubts as well as to solve their doubts and questions. It is important that this environment be communicative and open.
Finally, it is relevant to treat, if necessary, those pregnant adolescents who present problems derived from their condition, such as depression and loss of self-esteem or lack of social support, both from the environment and from institutions and various professions in the health and social branches.
- Lohan, M., Cruise, S., O’halloran, P., Alderlice, F., Hyde, A. (2010). Adolescent men’s attitudes in relation to pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes: a systematic review of the literature from 1980-2009. The Journal of Adolescent Health, 47: 327-345. [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20864002.
- Mendoza Tascón, L.A.. Claros Benítez, D.I., Peñaranda Ospina, C.B. (2016). Early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy: state of the art. Revista Chilena Obstetricia y Ginecología, 81 (3): 243-253.
- Sobeida, M. and Blázquez Morales, L. (2012). Teenage pregnancy. Electronic Journal Medicine, Health and Society.