POST TIME: 18 September, 2017 00:00 00 AM
Study highlights heightened risks of adolescent pregnancy in Bangladesh

Study highlights heightened risks of adolescent pregnancy in Bangladesh

Adolescent mothers and their babies face increased health risks in Bangladesh, according to a new study. The study was carried out by researchers from the Washington, D.C.-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). It 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, according to the study report.

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 per cent, in contrast to adult mothers’ infants at 17.9 per cent.

“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 10 countries with the highest number of adolescent pregnancies, despite robust maternal services like BRAC, a large non-governmental organisation that distributes maternal, newborn, and child health services, including pre-birth counselling 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. The benefits of these services, however, are not shared equally among users.

Overall, the research demonstrated 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 anaemia 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 hence 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 might be explained by the fact that adolescent women demonstrate

less autonomy, translating to less decision-making power in terms of food purchases.

The research showed, however, that these increased risks can be avoided. By prioritising the prevention of adolescent pregnancy, Bangladesh can lessen the associated social, health and economic burdens.

Study findings indicated 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 and Purnima Menon. It was published in an article in the journal ‘PLOS ONE’.