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Maternal Age Influences Risk of Abuse, Depression

A new study finds teen mothers are much more likely to experience abuse and postpartum depression than older moms.

In a Canadian study, University of Alberta researcher Dawn Kingston, Ph.D., reviewed responses to the Maternity Experiences Survey, an assessment of more than 6,400 new mothers.

The survey asked mothers about their experiences with stress, violence, pre- and postnatal care, breastfeeding and risky behavior like smoking and drug use before, during and after pregnancy.

Kingston said the survey offers the first nationwide view of maternity experiences and risk factors affecting maternal and infant health.

Learning that teens are most at risk of abuse and depression helps to inform public health policy makers. Moreover, the knowledge can steer providers to target care and support where it’s needed most, she said.

“If we don’t intervene early, the abuse and depression can continue into the postpartum period and the child’s early developmental years,” she said.

The discovery that teen moms are at risk places an additional burden on the child.

“Women that have mental health issues in pregnancy and postpartum have children that are at greater risk of having mental health problems and developmental problems.”

The study, in the journal Pediatrics, compared maternity experiences of women at various ages: teens (15 to 19 years), young adults (20 to 24) and adults (25 and older).

The data showed that 41 per cent of teen moms had experienced physical abuse in the previous two years—double the rate among women in their early 20s and five times that among adult women.

“We had no idea that the risk was as high as it is in adolescents,” Kingston said.

Amazingly, nearly a quarter of teens indicated they had been abused more than three times during that span. One-fifth said they’d been abused by a family member, compared with 14 per cent of young adults and 9.5 per cent of adult women.

Researchers discovered 14 percent of teens experienced symptoms of postpartum depression, compared with 9.3 percent of women in their early 20s and 6.9 percent of adult women.

Such results suggest a need for screening for depression and violence among pregnant women, Kingston said. Few pregnant and postpartum women are routinely screened for violence at present in Canada or in the U.S., a procedure that is mandatory in Australia and the U.K.

“Women often don’t tell their provider they’re suffering, whether it’s depression or domestic abuse,” she said. “That’s why there needs to be a routine screening process. If you don’t screen, the need may not be identified and women are not linked to resources like counseling and other help that’s available.”

Perhaps not surprising, researchers found that teen moms were more likely to start prenatal care late, more likely to engage in risky behavior like smoking, and less likely to breastfeed.

Some 15.5 percent of teen moms started prenatal care late, double the rate for moms in their 20s and nearly four times that for adult mothers.

Fewer teens reported initiating breastfeeding than older women. Just 19 percent breastfed for three months or more, compared with 30 percent of moms in their 20s and 41 percent of adult women.

Teens were also far more likely to smoke during and after pregnancy (29 percent and 50.9 percent, respectively) than women in their 20s (23.6 percent and 33.9 percent) and adult women (7.8 percent and 12.7 percent).

Many of these results can be attributed to the nature of unplanned teen pregnancies, but the high smoking rates among young adults was a surprise, Kingston said, as was the decision of moms to continue smoking after delivery.

“That suggests there’s considerable opportunity for teaching, identifying needs and linking women to services they need through prenatal and postpartum care.”

Source: University of Alberta

Maternal Age Influences Risk of Abuse, Depression

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Maternal Age Influences Risk of Abuse, Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 19 Jun 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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