The Facts and Challenges That Complicate Teen Pregnancy

Pregnant teenage girl (15-17) sitting in chair (cross-processed).
Geoff Manasse/Photodisc/Getty Images

The teen birth rate in the U.S. has been steadily falling for years, but it still remains the highest rate among industrialized countries. Many of these pregnancies are unplanned, which in any population can increase the risk for problems. The biggest risk for teen mothers is delaying prenatal care or not receiving it at all.

In 2017, the birth rate for women aged 15 to 19 years was 18.8 per 1,000 women. This is a record low and a drop of 7% since 2016. This is a very positive sign.

Complications of Teen Pregnancy

Teenagers and their babies face additional health risks during pregnancy (part of the reason that teen pregnancy may be discouraged).

Lack of Prenatal Care

Many teen mothers do not get prenatal care until late in their pregnancy. This is usually because of delayed pregnancy testing, denial, or even fear of telling others about the pregnancy.

Many teens worry about what their families will say when they find out that they are pregnant. So they avoid telling their parents or someone else who might be able to help them find support. This delays their prenatal care, making the pregnancy more risky. Most states have a health department or university clinic where prenatal care is free or low cost, making it more accessible for many teen moms.

Nutritional Concerns

Because the body of a teen is still growing, she needs more nutritional support to meet both her own needs and those of her baby. Nutritional counseling can be a large part of prenatal care, especially since many teens do not have the best dietary habits.

The demands of pregnancy increase the need for certain vitamins and minerals, especially calcium. Nutritional counseling will usually include information about prenatal vitamins, folic acid, and the dos and don'ts of eating and drinking. Lack of proper nutrition can lead to problems like ​anemia (low iron), low weight gain, and low birth weight for the baby.

Substance Abuse

Another problem some teen mothers face is the use of drugs and alcohol, including cigarette smoking. No amount of any of these substances is safe for use in pregnancy. Their use can increase the risk of premature birth and other complications.

Premature birth and low birth weight can create their own problems, including brain damage, physical disabilities, and more. The potentially lengthy hospital stay and increased risk of health problems for these babies may lead to more stress on the teen mother.

Challenges for Parenting Teen Mothers

Once a pregnant teen has decided to become a mother, supporting her decision is a critical part of ensuring her success. Only about half of young women who become pregnant will complete their high school education by the time that they are twenty-two, compared to about 90% of the females in that age group who do not become pregnant.

There are many programs in place to help teen parents learn parenting skills, complete their education (particularly high school), and find meaningful employment or further training and education with the idea of obtaining a better job. A teen parent will need more support and perhaps time to complete these tasks.

Having good childcare that empowers the parent is a must. Another very important part of postpartum care for a teen mother is ensuring access to effective birth control options to help prevent an unintended pregnancy.

A Word From Verywell

Teen mothers are perfectly capable of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. With proper nutrition, early prenatal care, and good screening for potential problems, most teen moms will go on to have an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Committee Opinion No 699: Adolescent Pregnancy, Contraception, and Sexual Activity. Obstet Gynecol. 2017;129(5):e142-e149. doi:10.1097/aog.0000000000002045

  2. Tilghman J, Lovette A. Prenatal care: The adolescent's perspective. J Perinat Educ. 2008;17(2):50-3. doi:10.1624/105812408X298390

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About teen pregnancy. Updated March 1, 2019.

  4. Masoumi SZ, Kashanian M, Arab E, Sheikhansari N, Arab R. A comparison between pregnancy outcome in women in 15 to 19 and 20 to 35 years age group. Med J Islam Repub Iran. 2017;31:140. doi:10.14196/mjiri.31.140

  5. Charness ME, Riley EP, Sowell ER. Drinking during pregnancy and the developing brain: Is any amount safe?. Trends Cogn Sci (Regul Ed). 2016;20(2):80-82. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2015.09.011

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.