Teen births in the United States are at a record low, according to a new study from researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics.
The study shows that the rate has continued to decline to 31.3 births per 1,000 women in 2011, and that’s good news, considering teen pregnancy could increase health risks for both mom and baby.
Teens that are pregnant are more likely to experience complications like pregnancy-induced hypertension, anemia, preeclampsia and premature birth.
Babies born to teens are up to six times more likely to have a low birth weight than infants born to moms over 20, according to the National Institutes of Health. Pediatrician Dr. Ellen Rome, head of the Center for Adolescent Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, adds that one of the biggest risks is that teen moms are less likely to engage in proper prenatal care and more likely to have poor nutrition, sexually transmitted diseases or substance abuse issues that can risk the pregnancy. Poor prenatal care, such as by not taking a multivitamin with folic acid, could also increase risk for birth defects like spina bifida, she added.
The new study also found declines in the number of premature births and newborns born low birth-weights. Premature births fell for a fifth straight year from 12.8 percent of all births in 2006 to 11.72 percent of births in 2011. Low birth-weight rates slightly declined from 8.15 percent of births in 2010 to 8.10 in 2011.
Despite the declines, Rome argued there’s still more to be done to curb teen pregnancy rates, such as by lifting taboos about having the sex talk with kids. She recommends children, parents and the pediatrician begin having this talk around when the child is 9 to 12 years old. A good time may be when the child is scheduled to receive an HPV vaccine, she added.
“This gives pediatrician and parent a chance to have those conversations,” she said, adding, “we can’t forget the teen dads in the equation either.”
Boys are also recommended to get an HPV vaccine beginning at 11 or 12. Rome said adolescents are more likely to make smarter decisions if they have ongoing conversations with their parents about waiting for sex until a certain time, or if they are going to have sex, having a conversation about practicing safe contraception such as by using a second method besides condoms.