Rhode Island Teens Having More Than One Baby—New CDC Report

Wednesday, April 03, 2013


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The latest CDC data shows a reduction in teen repeat birthrates, but the numbers are still significant.

One in five teen mothers in America will have a second unintended pregnancy, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control. In Rhode Island, the percentage is slightly better than the national average--closer to 18%--but is the highest percentage in New England.

According to the 2012 Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Fact Book (the 2013 edition will be released later this month), there were 5,384 birth to teens in the 2006-2010 period; of those, 949 were repeat births--17.6% of the total.

"We know that Rhode Island has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in New England and ranks ninth in the country," said Paula Hodges, RI Director, Public Policy & Advocacy for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England. "The CDC report further reiterates that Rhode Island remains an outlier in New England for its repeat teen pregnancy trends and continues to be an outlier for unintended pregnancy over all."

And although both the overall teen birthrate and the teen repeat birthrate in Rhode Island are on the decline, local healthcare providers and advocates think more needs to be done on behalf of mothers age 15-19.

"It's still too high," said Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, Board Chair of Women & Infants Health Care Alliance, and a professor at Brown University's Warren Alpert Medical School.

"We're moving in the right direction, but there's still work to do," said Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island KIDS COUNT.

The toll of repeat births for teens

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Repeat births pose numerous risks to both teen mothers and their children. Additional births can further prevent mothers from attending school and obtaining job experience. Repeat births also have health consequences for the infant, according to the CDC's report. Seventeen percent of infants who were second teen births were born preterm in 2010, compared with 12.6% for first births. Also, 11% of second teen birth infants were of low birth weight, compared with 9% of first births. Each year teen childbearing costs the United States approximately $11 billion.

"The reason that we are very concerned about the repeat teen birthrate is that having one child when you're in your teens before you have your education and job training puts a tremendous economic strain on a family," said KIDS COUNT's Bryant. "A repeat birth exponentially increases the economic strain and the needs of those young children and their mother. That's why it's so important to prevent birth to teens and repeat birth to teens."

Next steps

"Knowing that one in five teen mothers will have a second unintended pregnancy is something we can and should address through expanded family planning programs for low income women and stronger, evidence based sex education programs in our public schools," said Hodges.

To continue to reduce teen birth rates, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England along with other medical providers and advocates want Rhode Island to adopt an expanded family planning benefit under the state’s global Medicaid waiver this year. 

"The ACA permits states to expand their Medicaid programs to offer family planning services to women of reproductive age and under 250% of the federal poverty level ($27,925 for a single woman or $47,725 for family of 3) who are otherwise ineligible for full Medicaid services," Hodges said. "Thirty states have already adopted similar programs and it is time Rhode Island follow suit to prevent repeat and unintended pregnancy all around."

Rhode Island currently covers family planning services in a very limited way for women who deliver babies through Medicaid but only for two years post-partum.  After which time, Hodges said, women are dropped from the program and vulnerable to future unintended pregnancy.  "The policy as it currently stands leaves low income mothers vulnerable to subsequent unintended pregnancy," she said.

"We'd love to see Rhode Island have that in place," said Jenny Carrillo, senior executive vice president at Planned Parenthood Southern New England. "Not just for post-partum women, for all women, we hope that it will continue to help reduce teen birth rates and other unintended pregnancies."

More involvement in schools

For Pablo Rodriguez, lowering barriers to contraception has been clearly shown to similarly lower teen birthrates. "The thinking that by providing more accessible contraception and education about sexuality, you will increase sexual activity, has been disproven by the research," he said. "Those teens that have sex education and access to contraception usually start their sexual life later. Those that don't get the information get pregnant."

Rodriguez thinks contraception should be available in Rhode Island schools. "If we had school-based clinics that could provide the education and contraception availability, if it could be where kids can go without making a special trip, then you would see results."

Carrillo points to Nowell Academy, a new public charter school in Smithfield operated by the YWCA Rhode Island, as a model of providing teen mothers with supported access to education. "They receive direct education support and social support to have conversations around family planning," she said. "It's intentional planning rather than unintended pregnancies."

Bryant underscores the combination of family planning education for teen mothers with ongoing educational support. "It's the number one thing we should be doing to see that kids are on a path to success," she said, "and that includes not just high quality schools but the kinds of partnerships and mentoring that help young women find a path to their future."

"The absolute best teen pregnancy program is a successful career," she said.

The national data

Based on nationwide data from 2007-2010 from the National Vital Statistics System, of more than 367,000 births to teens aged 15–19 years, 18.3% were repeat births. This data shows a 6.2% decrease between 2007 and 2010; however, nearly one in five teen births is still a repeat birth.

Repeat teen birth is officially defined as having two or more pregnancies resulting in a live birth before the age of 20 years. The CDC analyzed the data on repeat teen birth by state and found that in the Northeastern states, fewer than 15% of teen births were repeat births, in comparison to over 20% of repeat births in Southern and Western states.

The prevalence of repeat teen births also varied by race/ethnicity, with the highest prevalence in 2010 among American Indian/Alaska Natives (21.6%), followed by Hispanics (20.9%), non-Hispanic blacks (20.4%), Asian or Pacific Islanders (17.6%), and non- Hispanic whites (14.8%).


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