Whilst the birth of a new baby can be an exciting time for all expectant parents, it inevitably impacts family life in many different ways.
For every parent, no matter their age or situation in life, the birth of their child brings brand new responsibilities and a greater demand on their time, energy, money and relationships. For teenage parents, the cost can often be greater than those who choose to have their children later in life. Teenage parents can struggle to manage their additional responsibilities and adjust to their new lives, prospects and future.
Most often, a teenager’s education will be disrupted by the pregnancy and birth of their child. Pregnancy is always an emotional time but for teenagers it can bring a large amount of upheaval and stress. The prospective parents, particularly the mother, may have to make some hard decisions as to whether they are going to continue with the pregnancy or consider an abortion or adoption.
If they choose to keep the baby and continue in school, the mother is often subject to mockery, ridicule and discrimination from classmates, friends and teachers. Teenage mothers attract very little sympathy or compassion and teachers or parents can ‘write them off’ when the pregnancy is announced. They are often seen as a lost cause and disregarded by the adults in their lives.
They can be rejected by the community in which they live, their neighbours or acquaintances showing no interest in them or their pregnancy. When their friends and peers begin to look at the opportunities and choices ahead of them, brought about only by education, pregnant girls can begin to feel isolated as they become aware of how different their future looks.
Girls may have to battle against the stigma that comes with teenage pregnancy, even from close friends or relatives. Friends can begin to drop away as the pregnancy develops, their freedom and lifestyle unhindered and a lack of understanding clouding the friendship. There may also be a lack of support from home – from parents, grandparents or siblings, meaning the soon-to-be mother must manage, for the most part, on her own.
The relationship with the baby’s father may be difficult or even break up completely, leading to very little help and encouragement from them and adding to the girl’s stress, anxiety and fear that surrounds the pregnancy. The baby’s father can sometimes deny responsibility and leave the future mother of his child to face the challenge of bringing up the baby as a single parent.
In addition, pregnant teens worry about becoming a parent and their ability to cope with the changes facing them. They can feel that they do not have enough knowledge or skill to care for and bring up a child. Uncertainty about the future can bring an emotional crisis. All of these issues can leave the teenage mother feeling that completing assignments, meeting deadlines and passing exams are too much to manage alongside their pregnancy and many drop out of education altogether.
After the birth of their baby, all mothers need time to heal and adjust to life with a new-born. For the teenage mother, this impact can be almost overwhelming. Teenage mothers have three times the rate of post-natal depression in comparison to older mothers as well as a higher risk of poor mental health for three years after the birth of their baby.
The mother may suffer physically through lack of sleep, poor appetite and exhaustion brought about by high anxiety and stress. Suddenly losing the personal freedom previously experienced as a teenager can be a hard pill to swallow for new parents and many struggle to care adequately for their child and themselves.
Breastfeeding rates among teenage mothers are extremely low as they are less likely to breastfeed than any other population group, often due to poor support from those around them or an assumption that formula feeding is expected from a mother their age. In addition, some teenagers go on to have more children within a few years of their first baby. All of these factors can lead to a teenage mother unable to, or choosing to not continue with, their own education.
The gap between a teenage mother and her peers continues to widen as her baby grows. Friends are completing exams, finishing school or beginning college courses. Some may start their first job or begin an apprenticeship. A teenage mother can feel left behind, alone and redundant; staying at home and caring for a baby, often single-handedly.
If there is very little help from relatives or from the baby’s father or partner, this means a very little amount of available child care, leaving them very little opportunity to look at either further education or work with which to support themselves financially. There are high rates of unemployment among teenage mothers. Their lack of education or skills needed for a workplace environment leads to a reduction in their career choices.
This, in turn, impacts their ability to financially support their child or family and they become solely dependent on benefits. They may live in poor housing conditions and in areas of high deprivation. Children born to teenage parents are more likely to have behavioural issues, health issues and poorer educational attainment. All of these factors affect the children born to teenage parents as they are more likely to become teenage parents themselves and begin the cycle all over again.