Health Risks Associated with Teen Pregnancy

Instructor: Courtney Dohse
In this lesson, we will review some of the common risks associated with teenage pregnancy, and learn how we can increase good outcomes for both the mother and baby.

Case Study

Ava is a 15-year-old high school student who presents to labor and delivery at 34 weeks gestation in labor. Upon completing her admission questionnaire, the nurse notes that Ava has not received any prenatal care for the entirety of her pregnancy. Fifteen hours later, Ava goes on to deliver a 4 lb, 5oz baby boy. Due to his preterm birth, he requires some respiratory assistance and he is admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Teen Pregnancy

Although teen pregnancy in the United States is on a decline, in the year 2015, there were still 229,715 babies born to young women ages 15-19. That means more than 22 babies were born per 1,000 women in this age group. Teen pregnancy carries certain risks that are more prominent in this age group than in childbearing women who are in their 20's and 30's.

Risks of Teen Pregnancy

Low Birth Weight

Babies, such as Ava's, who are born to mothers ages 10-19, are 14% more likely to have a low birth weight. A low birth weight is considered to be anything less than 5 lbs, 8 oz. Low birth weight in babies born to teenage mothers may be due to the increased likelihood of preterm birth, but may also be linked to physiological immaturity of the mother.

Babies born with a low birth weight are at an increased risk of inhibited growth and cognitive development, as well as diseases that may affect them for the rest of their lives. They also have a higher infant mortality rate.


Anemia is a deficiency of red blood cells in the body. Red blood cells are the cells responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. In order to make more blood cells, the body requires a certain amount of iron. Teenagers who become pregnant are at a higher risk of anemia for a couple of reasons.

First, teenage girls naturally have lower iron stores than do most adult women, due to low nutritional intake, menstruation, and the increased iron needs of the adolescent body. For this reason, many teenagers already have a lower than normal red blood cell count. If they become pregnant, iron demands increase to support the growing fetus, usually making the mother even more anemic.

Additionally, many pregnant teenagers like Ava do not receive proper prenatal care, and many have not been taking prenatal vitamins, which are now recommended for women even before they become pregnant. This may have put Ava at a risk for becoming anemic.

Preterm Labor

Preterm labor is labor beginning before 37 weeks gestation; it is the leading cause of death in babies and young children. According to the Journal of Perinatology, teenage girls are at a greater risk of preterm labor than adult women, probably due to immature reproductive organs, which may be unable to carry a pregnancy to full term.

The cervix of an adolescent girl is still underdeveloped, and more likely to be incompetent, or unable to remain closed until the pregnancy is full term. Looking back at our case study, this is probably why Ava went into preterm labor.

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