This Week's Topic
|8 July 2007
The rate of teenage pregnancies in Australia has declined significantly over a number of years and has been stable over recent years. Only five per cent of children are now born to women aged 19 years and under. Estimates vary, but it is believed that around one in four sexually active teenage young women become pregnant by mistake. About half of these unwanted pregnancies are terminated. One in six women aged 20 to 29, who are asked about pregnancy, will have experienced a pregnancy as a teenager.
Some pregnant teenagers are so shocked and frightened that they try to cope by ignoring or denying the pregnancy. This means they don't receive proper antenatal care, or miss the safest window of opportunity for abortion. Research indicates that sex education and access to effective contraception are essential in preventing unplanned pregnancy in the teenage population.
An unplanned pregnancy is a traumatic event, and a teenage woman needs empathetic support. Pressure from parents, medical staff, friends and partners can exacerbate her stress. Her options include:
- 16 per cent of Australian women seeking abortion are teenagers.
- relatively few women relinquish their children for adoption anymore, although adoption agencies and the demand for babies still exist.
* Foster care
- the child lives with a foster family until the teenage mother feels ready to cope as the primary carer.
- the stigma of single parenthood has passed, which means that keeping the child is more common than in the past.
Complications of teenage pregnancy
Teenage women generally encounter more problems during pregnancy and childbirth than older women. Reasons for the higher complication rate include:
* Physical immaturity
* Lack of health care knowledge
* Cigarette smoking
* Alcohol consumption and the use of other social drugs
* Poor diet
* Inadequate antenatal care
* High levels of emotional distress.
In nearly one quarter of cases, the partner is never told about the pregnancy. Most teenage women believe that having a child would have a positive effect on their relationship; however, of those women who choose to keep their baby, twice as many live in hostels than with the father of their child.
Social problems faced by teenage mothers
The social stigma of being a single parent no longer exists, and the availability of pensions means that parenting is a viable option. Many teenagers believe that looking after a baby will be the happiest time of their lives. This is true for some, but keeping the child may have unforeseen consequences, such as:
* Reduced education and employment opportunities
* Alienation from family and friends
* Increased risk of mental disturbances
* Increased risk of child abuse and neglect
* The child lacks adequate guidance due to parental life inexperience
* The child is more likely to become a teenage parent themselves.
Pregnancy counselling is generally available in all Australian states and territories. Ideally, counselling should support the young woman in making a free and fully informed decision about her options, and give information on abortion, adoption and parenting. Many teenagers feel uncomfortable or unable to talk with family, so professional counselling offers a valuable and much-needed resource.
Where to get help
* Your doctor
* Family Planning Victoria Tel. (03) 9257 0100
* Women's health centre at the Royal Women's Hospital Tel. (03) 9344 2007
Things to remember
* Five per cent of Australian children are born to women aged 19 years and under.
* Teenagers have a higher rate of complication during pregnancy and childbirth than older women.
* A child of teenage parents is more likely to become a teenage parent themselves.
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