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Why and how to avoid teenage pregnancies

Teenage pregnancy is defined as a pregnancy which ends when the female is still under the age of 20 years. It is important to realise that girls are capable of becoming pregnant as soon as they get to puberty.

Some 12 to 13 year olds have become pregnant even before their first period! The rates of teenage pregnancies vary in different countries, but over 90 percent occur in developing countries.

There are many complications associated with teenage pregnancy, hence all efforts should be made to avoid pregnancy in young girls as much as possible. Such complications include low birth weight, preterm deliveries, obstructed labors and higher rates of death in pregnancy and delivery. Infact pregnant teenagers have a two-fold increase in the risk of dying in pregnancy, compared to pregnancies in 20 to 24 year olds.

Furthermore teenagers are unlikely to attend antenatal clinics, thereby missing out on optimal pregnancy care.If poverty stricken,they are more likely to have nutritional deficiencies, further increasing the risks of complications. Additionally, early sexual activity predisposes teens to sexually transmitted infections (including HIV), and the temptations to procure unsafe abortions.

Why are teenage pregnancies so common? There has been rising rates of teenage sexual activities, without a concurrent increase in sexual and reproductive health counselling. Contraceptive accessibility by teenagers has not been easy either, adding to the rates of unwanted pregnancies. Easy access to drugs, alcohol and media influence have all had a role to play in early sexual activity. Poverty doesn’t help either, there are more teenage pregnancies in the lower socio-economic groups than in their more affluent counterparts.

Long term health effects of teen pregnancies are common. Psychosocial stigma results from social exclusion of teenage mothers in the community, with potential long term psychological consequences. The newborn baby is not spared either, often struggling with behavioural and psychosocial adjustments as well. The teenage mum may also drop out of school, with consequent exclusion from her own peers.

This is all in addition to economic hurdles in trying to bring up a child so early in life. Both the teenage mum and her growing child become predisposed to poor nutrition, and to diseases related to nutritional deficiencies.

Preventing teenage pregnancy is the best way out. Making sexual and reproductive health part of school curriculums has worked elsewhere, with consequent reduction in teenage pregnancies. And parents have a role to play, the earlier we talk about sexual health with our children, the more likely they will make safer choices. There are no medical reasons why teenagers should not have ready access to contraception. Contending with unwanted pregnancies and abortions are worse evils. And if our teenagers become pregnant, it’s our duty to support them as much as possible, and help with a return to school strategy.

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