October 1, 2012 — Summary of "Teenagers and Young Adults Have Elevated Maternity-Related Risks," Thomas, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, September 2012.
"While considerable research has been directed at the prevention of adolescent pregnancy, little attention has focused on the needs and experiences of pregnant and postpartum adolescents," J. Thomas wrote in a digest on a study by faculty at the University of Manitoba and colleagues that was published in the journal Pediatrics.
The researchers analyzed data from the 2006 Maternity Experiences Survey, which included interviews with 6,421 women who "had a live, singleton birth and were living with their infant," Thomas wrote. Most of the women were between five and nine months postpartum at the time they were interviewed. The researchers "compared the demographic and psychosocial characteristics, health behaviors and maternity experiences of adolescents (ages 15-19), young adults (20-24) and adults (25 and older)," Thomas noted.
The study found that adolescents and young adults were more likely than the oldest group to be single and have only have one child. The younger groups also were more likely to have felt unhappy or neutral about their pregnancies and to have not wanted to become pregnant when they did or ever.
In addition, the younger groups were more likely to have experienced physical abuse in the past two years and to have had multiple episodes of abuse. Among respondents who reported physical abuse, "a majority in each subgroup said their partner had been the main perpetrator," although adolescents were more likely than adults to report abuse by a family member. The younger groups also "had an increased risk of having experienced three or more stressful life events in the year before birth," as well as an increased likelihood of experiencing "symptoms of postpartum depression in the previous week," Thomas wrote.
Adolescents and young adults also "reported riskier health behaviors before and during pregnancy than older mothers," Thomas noted. For example, mothers in the two younger groups were more likely to have not taken a folic acid supplement in the three months prior to conception or after conception, and to have smoked in the three months prior to conception, during pregnancy or after delivery.
Additionally, the two younger groups were more likely to have started prenatal care after their first trimester and to have not attended any prenatal classes. Adolescents also were more likely than other groups to not have intended to exclusively breastfeed, while both adolescents and young adults were more likely to have not initiated breastfeeding and to have "placed infants in a position other than the recommended one for sleeping." Both adolescents and young adults, however, had a lower rate of caesarean deliveries.
The researchers noted several limitations of the study, including that pregnancy was less prevalent among adolescents and that the sample of adolescent respondents was relatively small. Thomas noted that the researchers highlighted several areas for future study, including "the high level of physical abuse among pregnant adolescents, teenagers' late initiation of prenatal care, and their low rates of breastfeeding and use of folic acid supplements."
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership