Good and bad news re: Teen birth rates

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Teen birth rates have been falling for two decades, but still, more than 365,000 girls aged 15 to 19 gave birth in 2010 and nearly one in five of those had previously given birth, new CDC statistics show.

There were 66,800 repeat teen births, so a little math shows that just over 18 percent of teens who gave birth in 2010 already had a child. More concerning still, for 9,600 girls it was their third child (and some had had even more).

Those children are at risk of being born both too small and too soon, the CDC says, among many other issues pervasive in this group. Teen birth rates in the United States have declined to a record low, which is good news, says CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. But rates are still far too high. Repeat births can negatively impact the mother s education and job opportunities as well as the health of the next generation. Teens, parents, health care providers, and others need to do much more to reduce unintended pregnancies.

Repeat teen birth rates were highest among American Indian (21.6 percent), Hispanics (20.9 percent), and blacks (20.4 percent), and lowest among non-Hispanic whites (14.8 percent).

Teen mothers generally (91.2 percent) used contraception two to six months after giving birth, but only 22 percent used the most effective methods, such as a contraceptive implant, IUD, or tubal ligation. ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross says the report shows the need for more and better sex education and access to condoms and contraceptives, including making the morning-after pill available to teens without prescriptions (an issue he s written about before).

ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan agrees, but says some of these pregnancies may actually be intentional. There s a lot of reasons for a teenage girl to become pregnant, either self-esteem or to have something they didn t have before. Whether consciously or subconsciously, getting pregnant can sometimes be WEUP: Willful Exposure to Unwanted Pregnancy.

The young men involved should not escape scrutiny, Dr. Ross adds. There s a subculture where young men go around bragging about how many babies they ve had with how many women. This should be strongly discouraged, of course.