Learn about statistics, risk factors, and prevention methods for teenage pregnancy.

By Nicole Harris
Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock

Teen pregnancy rates have fallen every year since 1991, thanks to improved sexual education and better access to birth control. But despite this promising trend, many parents still worry that their teenagers will experience an accidental pregnancy. Here’s what you need to know about teen pregnancy risk factors and prevention methods, so you can help your child navigate her reproductive health.

Teenage Pregnancy Statistics

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 43% of teens aged 15 to 19 were sexually active in 2015. Eighty-six percent of them used some form of birth control, but only 5% chose the most reliable options like intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants. A majority went with condoms and birth control pills, which have lower effectiveness rates with typical use (82% and 91%, respectively). All in all, the CDC says that teenagers had a total of 194,377 births in 2017. That’s 18.8 births per 1,000 American teenagers.

Any sexually active teenager can become pregnant when practicing unsafe sex, but the CDC says unfavorable socioeconomic conditions have been linked to higher rates of pregnancy. These conditions includes below-average income, low education level, unstable domestic life, and participation in child welfare services like foster care. Check out this article to learn more about race and age statistics for teenage pregnancy.

Effects of Teenage Pregnancy

Teenage pregnancy has negative social, health, and economic effects for the mom and her future baby.

Dropping Out of High School: “Both pregnancy and birth are significant contributors to dropping out of high school and lack of school completion,” says Colleen Murray, DPH, the senior science officer of Power to Decide, a campaign to prevent unplanned pregnancy. She states that half of teen moms graduate high school by age 22. By comparison, 90% of teens who don’t become mothers will receive a high school diploma.

Health Risks for Mom and Baby: Teen moms (and their babies) have an increased risk for certain health conditions. Kara Malone, M.D., medical director of the Teen and Pregnant Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, says pregnant teenagers are more likely to develop anemia (low blood iron), hypertension disorders, and preeclampsia (a serious complication characterized by high blood pressure during pregnancy). They’re also predisposed to preterm labor, which raises the possibility of delivering a baby with low birth weight. “The combination of these things increases the potential of infant mortality,” says Dr. Malone. Plus, according to Dr. Murray, young mothers are at higher risk for postpartum depression and “rapid repeat pregnancies” – which means getting pregnant again soon after giving birth.

Improper Postpartum Care: Some pregnant teens are too afraid to seek help, and others don’t realize they’re pregnant for many months. Because of this, the teens might not get proper prenatal care during their first trimester. “Prenatal care can be limited among young mothers, which can result in nutritional depletion and lower birth weight infants,” says Dr. Murray.

Negative Impact on the Baby’s Life: Dr. Murray says children of teen moms tend to have more health problems in the future, higher incarceration rates, and a greater probability of unemployment – especially if the teen mom lives in poverty. The CDC adds that children of teen mothers are more likely to give birth themselves as teens.

Societal Consequences: Teen and adolescent pregnancy also hinders society as a whole. For example, American taxpayers shelled out more than $9.4 billion for healthcare, childbirth, and foster care expenses in 2010, according to the CDC.

Prevention of Teenage Pregnancy

Dr. Malone says teen birth rates have declined because of better sexual education and improved access to birth control. “In theory, abstinence works, but in real life, it doesn't necessarily work,” says Dr. Malone. Instead of abstaining from sex, teens are more likely to use pregnancy prevention methods–which is why it’s vital to inform them about types of birth control methods, where to get them, and how to use them.

Many school districts teach reproductive health to their students, and teens can also research the information online. Even so, parents should be willing to communicate openly about sex. “The majority of young people are still looking to their parents for information, and then they confirm this information on their phone,” says Dr. Murray. “Teens should get educated on different prevention methods available to them.” She also advises that parents “tell teenagers the cost of having a baby and let them know the consequences,” so they’re less likely to make a rash decision.

If a teen doesn’t have a solid support system at home, she can enroll in pregnancy prevention programs and youth education programs. She can also speak to a school nurse or healthcare professional. “Teens seeking reproductive health services can do that without parental consent,” advises Dr. Murray. “A primary care doctor can refer teens to someone who can implant an IUD, prescribe birth control, and so on.”

To learn more about birth control and teen pregnancy, visit bedsider.org, an unplanned pregnancy prevention website owned by Power to Decide. You can also check out the CDC’s guidelines on contraception.

For Teens: I’m Pregnant – Now What?

You peed on the stick, and the pregnancy test comes back positive. It’s perfectly normal to feel scared and overwhelmed, but you shouldn’t keep quiet about your pregnancy. “The biggest advice I have is to find an adult you can trust and tell them,” says Dr. Malone. “Don't hide the pregnancy since you won’t get the prenatal care you need.”

If you don’t feel safe telling a parent or guardian about your pregnancy, Dr. Malone recommends visiting an in-school clinic, urgent care doctor, or social worker. These professionals will help you figure out next steps. They’ll provide you with resources to make informed, healthy decisions about your pregnancy.

Joining a support program, like the Teen and Pregnant Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, which Dr. Malone directs, might be a natural move. At these programs, teens meet with doctors to gain valuable information about pregnancy health. They also learn the ins and outs of postpartum life, ranging from proper car seat installation to safe baby sleeping practices. What’s more, these programs encourage pregnant teens to connect with each other, which provides a much-needed support system throughout this dramatic life experience.

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