Teen pregnancy: Qualitative research with teenage mothers
Summary of findings
Key themes from the research
- It is clear that half the sample came form modest social class backgrounds and had few formal qualifications.
- A number were living away from home when they discovered their pregnancy, suggesting that this may increase the likelihood of early motherhood.
- In the stories told by the women, their partners are generally not described in favourable terms.
- Many partners are significantly older than the young women. Few were supportive, and some were manipulative and abusive.
- Many relationships break up within a short time of the pregnancy being discovered.
- Respondents commonly describe feeling ‘shocked’ and ‘devastated’ to find they are pregnant.
- For some, the fear of ‘confessing’ to parents was also tinged with excitement.
- The responses of those around them are often more positive than they expect, which influences their decision to continue with the pregnancy.
- Some are strongly opposed to abortion. For others the decision is more complicated and they are confronted with the reality that they have a choice.
- Many speak about the ‘shame’ associated with teenage pregnancy. This stigma seems to be projected from a variety of sources, from professionals to the public.
- For some, the fear of being stigmatised keeps them away from groups which may offer support.
- Most support is from their mothers and other family members, though these relationships are not all supportive, and some relationships break down as a result of the birth.
- Support is also received from other ‘mums to be’, midwives, Sure Start, and Connexions workers.
- Not all relationships with professional workers are positive, and this can be compounded by difficult relationships with family members.
- The women talk extensively about experiences of labour, which vary greatly.
- Whilst many describe being a young mum as a ‘hard life’, many also talk about pregnancy and motherhood being a ‘road to Damascus’, in which destructive lifestyles may be left behind and they realise they have to grow up fast. For some it gave a clearer focus to their lives.
- For others, whilst pregnancy had brought insecurities with regard to occupation and money, it had meant they were more securely dedicated to their partners.
- Many were already planning for a future involving training, work and career, despite knowing this might have to be delayed until their children were old enough to be looked after by someone else during working hours.
- Negatives associated with being a teenage mum include unwanted changes to their bodies, and struggles finding and sustaining appropriate accommodation.
- Many talked about a lack of sex education, and others of the pressure to have sex. Pressure came from friends and partners, but also mothers and other relatives.
- There was some evidence that giving birth made the young women increasingly aware of the importance of using reliable contraception.
Some examples of policy implications
- Findings suggest areas where better support could be given to young women who are either pregnant or become mothers in their teenage years. Some actions might reduce conceptions, whilst others could provide the young women with better support during pregnancy and motherhood.
- Suggestions for prevention include:
- Better sex education in schools, with more attention given to relationship education, and the impact of pregnancy, abortion, child birth and motherhood. Peer education projects are also suggested.
- More could be done to support young women at the point of discovering they are pregnant, and may feel shocked, confused, etc.
- Suggestions for support during pregnancy include:
- Establish a support group dedicated to young mothers and ‘mums to be’
- More help and support immediately after the birth of the child.
- Non-judgemental support during medical interventions (and the need for an advocate)
- Re-training of health workers when it comes to light that they have not treated young pregnant women / young mothers non-judgementally.
- Examine (reinforce?) the role of Personal Advisors in acting as broker and advocate for the young person where service delivery falls far below what the young person has a right to expect.
The main objective of the research was to explore how young women responded to finding out they were pregnant, who they talked to, who supported them, and how their behaviours were influenced by local services, including access to sex education and contraception advice.
Specific objectives were to explore:
- Their feelings about the circumstances in which they found themselves;
- How they made the decisions they did;
- What factors seemed important to them in reaching decisions;
- Who they talked to and they were supported (or not) by those around them and the agencies set up to offer them help or support.
It was commissioned by the Teenage Pregnancy Co-ordinator to explore how young women responded to finding out they were pregnant, who they talked to, who supported them, and how their behaviours were influenced by local services, including access to sex education and contraception advice.
Not specified, but all were described as ‘young women’, and had either had babies in their teenage years or were pregnant at the time of the research.
- 7x depth interviews with young women (face-to-face)
- A number of small focus groups with young women (not specified), each involving 2 or 3 respondents. (13 respondents in all)
Data collection methodology
20x young women