Teen parents and their children face significant obstacles, but they can achieve healthy development and pursue a positive life path with early support, education and resources—beginning with a visit to the pediatrician.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, updating a clinical report, "Care of Adolescent Parents and Their Children," details the challenges faced by young families—from negative stereotypes to poverty—and guides pediatricians on how to best care for them. The report, published in the May 2021 Pediatrics also includes updated information on breastfeeding, prenatal management and adjustments to parenthood.
"While the teenage birthrate has declined in recent years, we still see patients who need support not only in managing their own health but in learning what they can expect as maturing young parents," said Makia E. Powers, MD, MPH, FAAP, lead author of the report, written by the Committee on Adolescence, and the Council on Early Childhood.
"Pediatricians can serve as the primary care provider for teens and their children, while helping connect them to community resources that can help with transportation, medical insurance, housing, and accessible food. By taking a two-generational approach to care, we can help decrease the effects of
Teen parents, defined as those ages 15-19, are at high risk of having repeat births. Overall, teen birth rates were 18.8 per 1,000 live births in 2017, having declined by 51% since 2007, with decreases in all racial and ethnic categories. Researchers attribute the decline to the increase in sexual education and increased contraception use among this population. Mothers younger than 17 years are at increased risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight infants and neonatal deaths, compared with older teenage mothers.
How pediatricians can help
The AAP report recommends that pediatricians:
Create a patient-centered
medical home for teen parents and their children. Teen-tot clinics take this approach, allowing both parent and child to complete appointments at the same visit.
Involve partners and families in the newborn period and infancy, actively supporting their involvement in their children's care.
Provide a multidisciplinary and comprehensive approach to caring for parenting adolescents by using community resources such as doulas, social services, and nurse home visitation programs.
breastfeeding initiation and continuation among teen mothers.
Provide contraceptive counseling during the pre- and postnatal periods in partnership with obstetricians and in subsequent health supervision visits. Offer access to the full range of contraceptive services, including long-acting reversible contraceptives.
Emphasize the importance of completing high school and pursuing higher education or vocational training.
Recognize all forms of parenting, including coparenting, and support the role of the adolescent father or partner.
Teach parents how to play and read with their children to positively influence their children's social and emotional health.
The clinical report notes that 18% to 35% of the pregnancies involve fathers younger than 20 years at the time of birth. Research has shown that children of adolescent mothers who continue to have close ties with the child's biological
father have better outcomes in employment and education, are less depressed, and are at less risk of becoming adolescent parents themselves.
"Many teen parents may struggle with poverty, lack education or affordable
child care and housing.
These barriers pose significant health risks for them and their children," said report coauthor Jennifer Takagishi, MD, FAAP.
"As pediatricians, we are in a position to identify the strengths of young parents, work to help those who need extra support and promote
positive parenting skills."