September 12, Washington, D.C. - Adolescent mothers and their babies face increased health risks in Bangladesh, according to a new study from researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). The study found that adolescent mothers recovered more slowly, and often faced more health complications than more mature mothers.
Adolescent mothers scored significantly lower on a scale of postpartum functional abilities, which measures a new mother’s ability to take care of herself and her child in the weeks following childbirth. A difference of nearly six points on the scale (51.6 ±18.4 vs. 57.5 ±18.2) means that younger mothers and their babies are especially vulnerable postpartum. Infants of adolescent mothers also demonstrated increased health risks, with a prevalence of underweight babies at 22.4 percent, in contrast to adult mothers’ infants at 17.9 percent.
“Adolescent pregnancy is risky to mothers and babies alike, for health reasons, as well as economic reasons,” said Phuong Hong Nguyen, lead author of the study and a research fellow at IFPRI. “Ensuring that these vulnerable groups receive adequate support to live healthy and productive lives requires constant evaluation of the services they receive.”
Bangladesh is among the top ten countries with the highest number of adolescent pregnancies, despite robust maternal services like BRAC, a large non-governmental organization that distributes maternal, newborn, and child health services, including pre-birth counseling and care. This outreach is designed to prepare all pregnant women for childbirth and the early days of motherhood, and give infants the best start possible in the way of nutrition.
But the benefits of these services are not shared equally among users. Overall, the research demonstrates that adolescent pregnancy is riskier for both mother and infant, even when maternal services are available and widely used. Risks range from greater risk of anemia to low birth weight; affecting the lifelong well-being of a young mother and her child. Economic risks also weigh heavily on younger mothers, who demonstrate higher rates of early school dropout which leaves them less empowered in the long term, and thus more vulnerable to sustained poverty.
Despite taking advantage of specifically designed interventions, adolescent mothers also showed less knowledge of the benefits of consuming calcium and following good dietary practices. This may be explained by the fact that adolescent women demonstrate less autonomy, translating to less decision-making power in terms of food purchasing.
The research shows that these increased risks can be avoided, however. By prioritizing the prevention of adolescent pregnancy, Bangladesh can lessen the associated social, health and economic burdens.
Study findings indicate that, it is clearly important to enhance family support and interventions for those who do become pregnant: “If younger mothers are accessing these services, but remain unable to care after their own health as well as the health of their child, outreach to families to improve support needs to be strengthened,” said Nguyen.
The study, “The nutrition and health risks faced by pregnant adolescents: Insights from a cross-sectional study in Bangladesh,” was written by Phuong Hong Nguyen, Tina Sanghvi, Lan Mai Tran, Kaosar Afsana, Zeba Mahmud, Bachera Aktar, Raisul Haque, Purnima Menon. It was published in an article in the journal PLOS One.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) seeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty. IFPRI was established in 1975 to identify and analyze alternative national and international strategies and policies for meeting the food needs of the developing world, with particular emphasis on low-income countries and on the poorer groups in those countries. www.ifpri.org.