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Teen mothers neglected in prenatal care: study

South Korea’s pregnant teenagers do not receive enough medical attention and are three times more likely to have premature babies than mothers in other age groups, partly because of stigmatization against teenage pregnancies and unwed motherhood, a study showed Tuesday.

The study, compiled by a team of physicians at the SMG-SNU Boramae Medical Center in Seoul, analyzed government data on 463,847 women who have experienced either miscarriages or childbirths in 2010.

According to their research findings, 42 percent of all teenage mothers made four or fewer prenatal visits to medical clinics throughout their pregnancies. Also, 14.4 percent of them never received any pregnancy check-ups or screenings.

The numbers were significantly different from mothers in their 20s and older. Only 11.6 percent of them made 4 or fewer prenatal visits, while only 3 percent made no visits to medical clinics.
A baby box installed by a church to help protect abandoned babies in South Korea. (Yonhap)
A baby box installed by a church to help protect abandoned babies in South Korea. (Yonhap)

A total of 3.7 percent of all teen mothers experienced premature deliveries, which was much higher than the proportion of mothers in their 20s and older who had the same experience -- which was 1.3 percent

In South Korea, pregnant women in general are recommended to make about 13 to 15 visits for checkups during their pregnancies.

Lee Seung-mi, one of the researchers for the study, wrote that not receiving any prenatal checkups can increase a woman’s risk to a number of conditions, including preterm deliveries.

At least 50 percent of premature births are preventable if a woman receives prenatal care, she added.

“Prenatal visits are also important because they are almost the only way for women get diagnosed if they have any pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.”

Preterm births among teen mothers are also common in other countries.

A 2010 study published by an UK-based scientific journal found that pregnant women aged 14-17 are at higher risk of preterm births and having babies with low birth weight -- especially if they are having their second baby while still a teen.

“It is possible that the increased risk of poor pregnancy outcome is related to biological immaturity,” professor Louise Kenny, consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist at Cork University Maternity Hospital in Ireland was quoted as saying in Science Daily. “It is also possible that the increased risk of poor pregnancy outcome in the second teenage pregnancy is related to numerous complicating factors such as greater social deprivation and less prenatal care.”

Unwed motherhood and teenage pregnancies are still largely considered taboo here.

On record, the country’s out-of-wedlock birth rate in 2010 is 2.1 percent, significantly lower than the rate in countries such as Norway (55 percent) and Ireland (64.1 percent).

Lee said many teenage mothers are unwed parents, and those who never receive medical prenatal care are those who are forced to keep their pregnancies a secret.
An NGO advocating for youth rights have reported a number of human rights violations against teenage mothers, including forced adoption, being disowned by the parents, as well as coerced abortion procedures.

A 2009 study by Studies on Korean Youth, which surveyed a total of 15 Korean teenage unwed mothers, also showed that more than half of the women were either thinking of or had already given up their children for adoption, because they did not have enough social and financial support. Also, 86 percent of them ran away from home, and all of them were raised by low-income households.

Lee said all mothers deserve to receive appropriate prenatal care regardless of their age and marital status.

“Pregnancy complications can lead to fatal outcomes without appropriate care and diagnosis,” she wrote. “It’s extremely important to provide both education and care for young pregnant women who are at risk.”

By Claire Lee(
Korea Herald Youtube