photo of pregnant teen

Studies have shown that babies born to teen mothers who participate in group visits are less likely to deliver low-birth-weight babies. 

Posted Nov. 12, 2008

The impending birth of a new baby is usually cause for joy and fulfillment, but the prospect may also bring confusion and fear for teenage mothers-to-be who are not far removed from their own childhood years. They may be unaware of the changes their body will undergo and lack an adequate social network to help them through pregnancy and beyond.

To help these young mothers, the Department of Family and Community Medicine operates the Teen Pregnancy Support Program. A key feature of the program is group medical appointments, which allows a patient to go through her pregnancy with other young women whose babies are due at about the same time.

“It's been shown in the literature that patients respond well in group settings,” said W. Suzanne Eidson-Ton, assistant professor of family and community medicine. “Peer groups and peer-association are especially important to teens.”

Group settings allow patients to receive much more education and counseling than is sometimes possible in a traditional medical appointment. The group visits, for example, allow two hours to discuss a variety of issues relevant to teen health, as opposed to the 15-to-20 minutes typically allotted for a routine prenatal visit.”

In addition to Eidson-Ton, the program includes a nurse manager, psychologist and pre-doctoral psychology intern.

While patients in the program continue to meet individually with their regular primary care providers for medical evaluations, they also attend group meetings, where the emphasis is on education. Typical topics are body changes, breastfeeding, exercise, substance abuse and choices involving labor and delivery.

Nutrition is a key area where many teen mothers-to-be need counseling, Eidson-Ton said. The program teaches them how to make decisions for themselves and to make them competently. For example, teenagers accustomed to regular trips to fast-food restaurants receive advice on making healthier dietary choices.

The teens also learn about developing a strong support system. That could mean distancing themselves from friends and acquaintances who engage in harmful behaviors.

“Teens tend to absorb those lessons more easily in a group setting,” Eidson-Ton said. “The group helps them feel supported and enables them to learn in a less-threatening environment. They also are able to learn from each other's experiences and questions.”

Studies have shown that babies born to teen mothers who participate in group visits have a lower incidence of low birth weight. Eidson-Ton also hopes that the Teen Pregnancy Support Program will result in increased breastfeeding, a decrease in repeat pregnancies during teen years and healthier choices during pregnancy.

Eidson-Ton has had a longtime interest in adolescent health. After spending some time providing routine prenatal care for adolescents, she said, “It became apparent that there are many educational needs and support issues facing teenagers.”

That was when the Teen Pregnancy Support Program was launched.