Health Risks of Child or Teenage Pregnancy

Ten-year-old girl gives birth — and the risks of teenage pregnancy

A 10-year-old tribal girl from Colombia gave birth on April 6 to her five-pound daughter by Cesarean section, sparking global outrage for becoming one of the youngest mothers in recorded history.

The unnamed girl, a member of the indigenous Wayuu tribe whose homeland is in northern Columbia’s La Guajira Peninsula, arrived at the hospital crying and in pain. She was 39 weeks pregnant when she underwent a C-section, Univision’s Primer Impacto reported. Most pregnancies are 38 weeks.

The baby was otherwise healthy, despite the fact that the new mom reportedly refused to breastfeed her newborn. The child-mom was also doing fine — even if the first time she saw a doctor during her pregnancy was on the day she gave birth. The pair had to be confined for a few days at the neo-natal unit of an undisclosed Columbia hospital.

Doctors decided to carry out the risky operation because of her age. According to Dr. Kimberly Gecsi, an obstetrician/gynecologist interviewed in Cleveland by ABC News Blogs, a C-section is common in births at such a young age. “The baby’s head needs to come through a bony outlet. But in a young girl, the pelvis may not be ready or big enough to deliver a baby,” she said.

While the Colombian police could prosecute the father for underage sex, the country’s constitution allows the Wayuu tribe to maintain its own sovereignty and certain cultural heritages, which supposedly include very early pregnancies.

“We’ve already seen several cases (of pregnancy) in girls of the Wayuu ethnicity,” Efraín Pacheco Casadiego, director of the hospital where the girl gave birth, told RCN La Radio noticias. “When in fact (the girls) should be playing with dolls, they are having to care for a baby. This is shocking.” The tribe has remained tightlipped about who the father of the newborn is.

Medical risks of early pregnancies
The 10-year-old girl’s plight highlights anew the medical risks of such early pregnancies.

Extremely young mothers have a higher risk of preeclampsia and the babies have a higher risk of fetal growth restriction, Dr. Frederick Gonzalez, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the New York University Langone Medical Center points out.

“These girls are not ready to be pregnant. Their bodies are not mature,” says Dr. Gonzalez. “They may be able to get pregnant, but being able to have a baby is a whole other situation.”

The numbers of teenage pregnancies have dropped over the past 30 years in almost all countries, but about 16 million teenage girls still become mothers every year, according to the World Health Organization. These pregnant teens and their unborn babies have unique medical risks.

For one, adolescent pregnancy is associated with higher rates of illness and death for both the mother and infant.

High blood pressure
Compared to pregnant women in their 20s and 30s, pregnant teens have a higher risk of getting high blood pressure — called pregnancy-induced hypertension. They also have a higher risk of preeclampsia — a dangerous medical condition involving high blood pressure combined with excess protein in the urine, swelling of a mother’s hands and face, and organ damage.

To control preeclampsia symptoms, the pregnant teen may need to take medications. But these medications can disrupt the unborn baby’s growth and even lead to pregnancy complications like premature birth.

Premature birth
A full-term pregnancy lasts from 39-40 weeks, and a baby that is delivered before 37 weeks is a premature baby or “preemie.” Teenage mothers are at a higher risk for premature birth, which also puts their baby at risk for many health problems.