There were nearly 250,000 babies born in 2014 to teen moms, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. About 77 percent of these pregnancies were unplanned. A teenage pregnancy can change the course of a young mom’s life. It puts her in a place where she’s responsible not only for herself, but also for another human being.
Carrying a baby and becoming a mom not only creates physical changes. Women also go through mental changes. Young moms face added stress from:
- sleepless nights
- arranging child care
- making doctor’s appointments
- attempting to finish high school
While not all teenage mothers are affected greatly by mental and physical changes, many are. If you experience mental health changes after childbirth, it’s important to reach out to others and seek professional help.
A research study published in the journal Pediatrics studied more than 6,000 Canadian women, ranging in age from adolescents to adults. The researchers found that girls ranging from 15 to 19 experienced postpartum depression at a rate that was twice as high as women aged 25 and older.
Another study reported that teen mothers face significant levels of stress that can then lead to increased mental health concerns. In addition to higher rates of postpartum depression, teenage mothers have higher rates of depression.
They also have higher rates of suicidal ideation than their peers who aren’t mothers. Teen mothers are more likely to experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than other teenage women, as well. This could be because teen moms are more likely to have gone through mental and/or physical abuse.
Teen moms might face a number of mental health conditions related to childbirth and being a new mom. Examples of these conditions include:
- Baby blues: The “baby blues” are when a woman experiences symptoms for one to two weeks after giving birth. These symptoms include mood swings, anxiety, sadness, overwhelm, difficulty concentrating, trouble eating, and difficulty sleeping.
- Depression: Being a teen mom is a risk factor for depression. If a mom has a baby before 37 weeks or experiences complications, depression risks can increase.
- Postpartum depression: Postpartum depression involves more severe and significant symptoms than baby blues. Teen moms are twice as likely to experience postpartum depression as their adult counterparts. Women sometimes mistake postpartum depression for the baby blues. Baby blues symptoms will go away after a few weeks. Depression symptoms won’t.
Additional symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- difficulty bonding with your baby
- overwhelming fatigue
- feeling worthless
- panic attacks
- thinking of harming yourself or your baby
- difficulty enjoying activities you once did
If you experience these effects after giving birth, help is available. It’s important to know that you aren’t alone. Remember, many women experience postpartum depression.
Teenage mothers are more likely to fall in demographic categories that make the risk of mental illness higher. These risk factors include:
- having parents with low education levels
- a history of child abuse
- limited social networks
- living in chaotic and unstable home environments
- living in low-income communities
In addition to these factors, teenage mothers are more likely to experience significant levels of stress that can increase risk for mental health disorders.
But some factors can reduce the likelihood that a teenage mom will have psychiatric issues. If a teen mom has a supportive relationship with her mother and/or the baby’s father, her risks are reduced.
While teen pregnancy can have a significant effect on a young mother’s mental health, it impacts other aspects of her life too. It’s important to consider these factors:
According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, teenage parents often don’t complete higher levels of education. They often have more restricted economic opportunities than older parents.
Around one-half of teen moms have their high school diploma by age 22. Only 10 percent of teen moms typically complete a two- or four-year degree. While there are certainly exceptions, high school completion and higher education is typically associated with a greater ability to earn more income over the course of a lifetime.
According to a study published in Maternal Child Health Journal, teenage mothers had the poorest physical health of all categories of women studied, including women who engaged in unprotected sex. Teenage mothers may neglect their physical health while caring for their babies. They may also not have access to or know about healthy foods and eating. They are also more likely to be obese.
According to the National Institutes of Health, there’s a higher risk of the following in teenage pregnancy:
- contracting STDs (sexually transmitted diseases)
- premature delivery
- delivering at low birth weight
Impact to the child
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children born to adolescent parents face greater challenges throughout their lives. These challenges include getting less education and worse behavioral and physical health outcomes.
According to Youth.gov, other effects to a child of a teenage mother include:
- greater risk for lower birth weight and infant mortality
- less prepared to enter kindergarten
- rely more heavily on publicly funded health care
- are more likely to be incarcerated at some time during adolescence
- are more likely to drop out of high school
- are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed as a young adult
These effects can create a perpetual cycle for teenage mothers, their children, and their children’s children.
Teenage motherhood doesn’t have to mean a young woman won’t be successful in life. But it’s important they consider what other young mothers before them have faced related to overall health, financial stability, and the health of their child.
Young mothers should talk to a school counselor or social worker regarding services that can assist them in finishing school and living a healthier life.
Seeking support from others can really improve a teen mom’s mental health. This includes the support of:
- adult role models
- physicians and other healthcare providers
Many community centers also have services specifically for teen parents, including day care during school hours.
It’s important that teen moms seek prenatal care as early as recommended, usually in the first trimester. This support for your and your baby’s health promotes better outcomes, both during pregnancy and afterward.
Teenage moms are more likely to have positive mental health and financial outcomes when they finish high school. Many high schools offer programs or will make arrangements with a teen mom to help her finish her education. While finishing school can be an extra stressor, it’s important for the future of a teen mom and her baby.
Teenagers who give birth are at greater risk for mental health concerns than older moms. But being aware of the risks and knowing where to find help can relieve some stress and pressure.
Being a new mom isn’t easy, no matter your age. When you’re a teen mom, taking care of yourself while you also care for your little one is especially important.