As Oklahoma ranks second highest in the nation for teen birth rates, we have to address how a young mother and her child’s health can be negatively affected throughout life.
In my obstetrics and gynecology residency, I deal with a proportionally large number of teenage pregnancies. I have delivered babies to mothers ranging in age from 12 to 19 years old. Most of these teens are afraid and worried because they don’t have the necessary resources to take care of an infant. Their bodies are put through a rollercoaster of physical changes, and they often have trouble adapting during and after pregnancy.
Many of these girls are faced with depression post-pregnancy, which is likely due to the overwhelming difficulty of taking care of an infant and losing part of their own childhood.
With the early onset of puberty, girls are more vulnerable to becoming pregnant at earlier ages. Teens have more high-risk pregnancies than older mothers, mainly because of poor prenatal care and socioeconomic situations. The most common pregnancy complication for teens are low birth weight and premature infants, but their babies also have a higher risk of death. Because of the teenage mother’s physical immaturity and underdevelopment, her body isn’t fully prepared for the health implications of pregnancy and childbirth.
Along with a teen’s childbirth risks, there are additional short- and long-term effects on the young mother. These teenagers may have matured physically, but they haven’t yet accomplished important psychological and cognitive developments. This often can lead to anxiety and depression.
In a Baylor College of Medicine study of 623 adolescent mothers, 18 years and younger, who were followed for four years postpartum, 57 percent reported moderate to severe depression. Another population-based study from Sweden found teenage mothers were more likely to have a premature death later in life compared to women who gave birth at an older age. The increased risk was attributable to both social and biological factors, including lung and cervical cancer, heart disease, suicide and alcohol abuse.
While Oklahoma’s teen birth rate declined by 20 percent from 2007 to 2012, continued prevention is still necessary, as the state isn’t in step with the rest of the nation.
In 2012, 47.3 out of 1,000 girls (ages 15-19) gave birth in Oklahoma. The U.S. teen birth rate, in comparison, is 29.4. The Sooner State currently ranks second highest in the nation for birth rates among 15- to 19-year-olds and first for ages 18 and 19.
Teen pregnancy costs Oklahoma taxpayers $190 million annually, according to a 2008 analysis by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Reasons for this cost include an increase in health care services, foster care and incarceration rates among children of teen parents. Teen mothers, on average, have much lower educational attainment and incomes, which leads to lost tax revenue.
For all these reasons and more, teen pregnancy prevention is a critical topic that should remain a major focus for Oklahomans.
COURTNEY SEACAT is a third-year ob-gyn resident at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. She graduated with a Kansas State University Bachelor of Science and received her medical degree from the University of Kansas.