Pregnant teens generally see advantages and disadvantages to having a baby at an early age, a new study shows, and their perceptions may lead to better pregnancy-prevention messages.
One of the key advantages of being pregnant that many girls cited was perceived enhancement of connectedness with others, suggesting that helping teens find other ways to build strong relationships could be an effective strategy for preventing teen pregnancy.
Dr. Cynthia Rosengard of Rhode Island Hospital in Providence and her colleagues also found that the advantages and disadvantages of teenage childbearing that girls talked about varied by age, ethnicity and whether or not their pregnancy was intended.
“Our findings challenge the notion that pregnant teens can be thought of as a homogenous group with whom we can approach and intervene with the same, undifferentiated messages,” Rosengard and her team write in the journal Pediatrics.
The researchers surveyed 247 girls aged 12 to 19 at their first prenatal health care visit, asking them to say in writing what they thought the advantages and disadvantages were to having a child during their teens rather than waiting.
Teens who saw advantages to their pregnancy said having a baby would strengthen their relationship with their partner and would give them someone to love who would love them. Some also said that being closer in age to a child would be beneficial, or that they would get more help from their families and partners than they would have if they had a baby later on. Girls also said having a baby would help them to become more mature and responsible.
Disadvantages that teens mentioned included not being prepared to support a baby and interference with their lives and future plans. Some also said they felt others would view them negatively.
The youngest teens were the most likely to say that having a baby would help strengthen their relationships, while older girls were more likely to talk about practical concerns. Hispanic teens were also more likely to emphasize the benefits of their pregnancy in enhancing their connectedness with others, and less likely to cite lack of preparedness as a drawback.
Girls who had intended to get pregnant talked more about the advantages of pregnancy than its disadvantages. In fact, nearly one-third of teens who had intended their pregnancies said they could see no disadvantages to having a child.
Nonetheless, the researchers report, “It is particularly noteworthy that participants were able to generate more disadvantages than advantages. Disadvantage themes were almost always emphasized by larger percentages of the sample than advantage themes.”
Understanding the differences among pregnant teenagers “will assist us to better match our intervention and prevention strategies to their ideas and needs,” the team concludes.
SOURCE: Pediatrics, August 2006.
Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.