May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month

Image credit -- CDC's Vital Signs: Preventing Repeat Teen Births

Image credit — CDC’s Vital Signs: Preventing Repeat Teen Births

I hesitate to admit this on a work-related blog, but since May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, here goes: I watch MTV’s Teen Mom 2 almost every week. Almost every week, I find myself criticizing the moms on the show for being so immature, and then reminding myself that I need to have more empathy because the moms are still kids, too.

Inevitably, that leads me to wonder what it would have been like had I become a mom at 16. Would I have finished high school, much less college? Would I have ever been able to leave my hometown (and the help of family members)? Could I have raised a healthy, successful child?

The honest answer to my questions is maybe, maybe not.

There are a lot of statistics out in the world about teen moms. According to CDC, they are less likely to finish high school – only about 50% of teen moms receive a high school diploma by 22 years of age (compared to 90% of women who did not give birth during adolescence).

There are also a lot of statistics about babies born to teen moms. They are more likely to have fewer skills and be less prepared for kindergarten, be incarcerated at some time during adolescence, drop out of high school, give birth as a teenager, and be unemployed or underemployed as a young adult.

But teen pregnancies can be prevented. That’s why it’s one of CDC’s Winnable Battle areas. And that’s just one of the reasons Danya is proud to provide assistance to CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health through an NPIN Task Order.

Over the past two decades, teen pregnancy rates have fallen in the United States. Still, according to CDC, in 2011, 329,797 babies were born to teen mothers (age 15–19). Perhaps this is even more surprising: In an April 2013 issue of Vital Signs, CDC’s Division of Reproductive Health announced that nearly one in five teen births is a repeat birth, meaning that the mother has had two or more pregnancies that resulted in live birth before age 20. That’s about 183 repeat teen births a day in the United States.

There are disparities in teen birth rates, with non-Hispanic black youth, Hispanic/Latino youth, and socioeconomically disadvantaged youth of any race or ethnicity experiencing the highest rates of teen pregnancy and childbirth. Additionally, American Indian and Alaska Natives, Hispanics, and black teens are about 1.5 times more likely to have a repeat teen birth, compared to white teens.

Repeat births pose additional risks to teen moms and their babies. For moms, it further tightens resources and education and employment opportunities. For babies, rates of preterm and low birth rate are higher in teens with a repeat birth, as compared to first births.

What can we do to prevent teen pregnancies – and teen repeat pregnancies? And how do we talk about teen pregnancy prevention without criticizing and disparaging teens who are parents? These are difficult questions to answer because teen pregnancy is such a controversial topic. But it’s important and ignoring it won’t make it go away.

In Vital Signs, CDC suggests that all teens, including teen parents, can:

  • Choose not to have sex.
  • Use birth control correctly every time if they are having sex. They should also use condoms every time they have sex to prevent disease.
  • Discuss sexual health issues with their parents, partner, health care professionals, and other adults and friends they trust.
  • Visit www.hhs.gov/opa to find a family planning clinic near them for birth control if they choose to be sexually active.

Although there are lots of statistics about teen parents and their babies, being a teen parent is about so much more than numbers. Don’t we all think we are going to beat the statistics anyway, especially as teenagers? Sometimes, we do. That’s a little bit of what I hope we get to see on Teen Mom 2.

By Stacy Fentress

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