Teen mothers are far more likely to suffer abuse and postpartum depression than older moms, according to a study of Canadian women's maternity experiences by a University of Alberta researcher.
Dawn Kingston, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Nursing, analyzed data from the Maternity Experiences Survey, which asked more than 6,400 new mothers about their experiences with stress, violence, pre- and postnatal care, breastfeeding and risky behaviour like smoking and drug use before, during and after pregnancy.
Kingston said the survey offers the first nationwide view of maternity experiences and many risk factors affecting maternal and infant health. Knowing that teens are most at risk of abuse and depression, for example, helps public health policy makers and providers 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. "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, published in the May issue of 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.
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.
Some 14 per cent of teens experienced symptoms of postpartum depression, compared with 9.3 per cent of women in their early 20s and 6.9 per cent 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, something that is mandatory in Australia and the U.K.