Young pregnancies come with health risks

WHEELING – Pregnant women younger than 20 years old are much more likely to experience health problems during pregnancy, said Dr. Catherine Coleman, obstetrics and gynecology doctor at Wheeling Hospital.

Coleman said she performed 131 deliveries for women younger than 19 years old out of the 1,200 babies she delivered last year. Though the majority of patients were 19 years or older, she said she did see patients as young as 13 in her office.

Coleman said three major risks come with teen pregnancy: Medical risks for the mother; health risks for the baby; and socioeconomic factors that also lead to other health issues.

Coleman said in addition to being at risk for high blood pressure and severe to moderate depression after delivering the child, teen mothers are more likely to need a cesarean section during birth.

“It’s babies having babies. A lot of these girls are physically immature. Their bone structures are not mature, so they get pregnant and sometimes the babies are too big for their pelvis,” Coleman said.

Coleman said the babies of teen mothers are often at risk as well.

Many do not grow normally or have a low birth-weight due to being premature or have intrauterine growth restricted.

“This is because there is nutritional competition between the mom and the baby if the mom is still growing and the baby is growing. So sometimes these babies are smaller than they ought to be,” Coleman said. “Also, sometimes they are premature because they develop problems with the placenta or things like preeclampsia, which requires them to be delivered prematurely.”

Coleman said teenage mothers are often in denial of their pregnancy and do not seek prenatal care or seek it too late. Many congenital anomalies are at heightened risk in teenage mothers because of nutritional deficiencies and poor prenatal care. Birth defects such as spina bifida and abdominal wall problems then become more frequent.

Socioeconomically, she said, teen mothers tend to be less educated, chronically poor, and only a fraction graduate high school and even fewer go on to college. She said teen mothers also are more likely to be victims of domestic violence and their children are more likely to be victims of child abuse.