Teenage Pregnancy and Birth Defects

There are several birth defects that are associated with teenage pregnancy due to several different connections with the behaviors and choices of teenagers.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs)

Both because teens may be less attuned to the signs that could let them know they are pregnant and because the same risk-taking behavior that could lead a teen girl to engage in unprotected sex could also lead her to alcohol consumption while pregnant, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder for her unborn child might be a result.

The symptoms of FASD include head and facial structure abnormalities; low body weight and lower than average height; a lack of physical coordination; problems with attention, poor memory, reasoning, and judgment; hyperactivity; learning disabilities and low IQ; physical problems with sight, hearing, the heart or kidneys, and the skeletal structure.

Drinking alcohol while pregnant can also lead to miscarriage or stillbirth. The fact is, there is no known amount or timing of alcohol consumption during pregnancy that is safe, and since consuming alcohol while pregnant is the cause, the prevention is completely clear: avoiding alcohol when pregnant.

Neural Tube Defects (NTDs)

In a planned pregnancy, a woman is advised to start taking prenatal vitamins that include folic acid about three months prior to attempting to get pregnant and to continue taking them during pregnancy. Folic acid is also added to breakfast cereals. Folic acid is known to play a significant role in the prevention of neural tube defects, the most common of which are spina bifida and anencephaly.

However, in unplanned pregnancies, which accounts for many pregnancies of teens, the run-up to pregnancy by preparing with vitamins isn’t undertaken. In addition, teens may be less likely to eat any breakfast (let alone one including the fortified cereals) and less likely to recognize that she is pregnant and seek regular prenatal care that would alert her to the need for folic acid in her diet.

In a case of spina bifida, the spinal column of the fetus doesn’t completely close during the first month of pregnancy, which usually results in nerve damage with some paralysis of the legs. In a case of anencephaly, large portions of the brain do not develop, and as a result, the baby will either be stillborn or die soon after birth.

Low Birth Weight (LBW) and Associated Birth Defects

Teen pregnancy is a risk factor for low birth weight, which is associated with risks of:

• autism spectrum disorders, a type of pervasive developmental disorder that includes abnormal development of social interaction and communication, as well as limited interest range and repetitive behaviors

  • bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), a chronic lung disease
  • cerebral hemorrhage, a problem of bleeding in the cerebrum
  • cerebral palsy, the result of abnormal development or damage to the brain’s motor control centers
  • deafness, the diminishment or absence of the ability to hear
  • epilepsy, a variety of disturbances to the electrical activity of the brain that may cause physical or perceptual symptoms or loss of consciousness
  • mental retardation, a disability characterized by limitation in intellectual function
  • premature birth
  • retinopathy, a disease of the retina that is not inflammatory