A baby is a treasure and a joy. But having a baby may be difficult. We would like to talk today about one way to avoid some of the difficulties and help both mother and baby be well and strong.
How can you do that? By making sure that a girl is old enough to have her first baby safely. That means she should not become pregnant before she is 18, or until at least three years after she has stopped growing.
We can’t stress this enough. If a girl is too young or too weak, she could die in childbirth. Or she can be hurt so badly that her life is miserable. Or she may be so young and weak that the baby dies.
If you think about it, it makes sense that a young mother would have a more difficult labour because her body, particularly her pelvis, is not fully developed.
There is an added danger for a young mother that can haunt her all her life. You see, when a girl gets pregnant before she is fully grown, that is, before three years have passed since she reached her full height, the pregnancy can halt her physical development.
A small pelvis is the reason why birth complications happen more to girls who become pregnant too early. The problem common to these young mothers occurs during a difficult labour and is called an obstetric fistula. It is a hole inside the mother, a hole that is punched in the wall of the rectum or bladder by the baby as it fights to be born. Unless the hole is fixed by surgery, urine or feces will leak down the mother’s legs for the rest of her life. The mother will always smell of urine or feces, no matter how clean she tries to be. Often she is made an outcast.
In a study in Nigeria, 8 out of 10 of the mothers who developed fistulas were age 15 to 19. In most countries, such holes usually happen to girls who get pregnant soon after they begin to menstruate.
We know there are many who say newlyweds should have children as soon as possible. In some traditions, people have always married young and had children as soon as possible. In these traditions, young couples have a child quickly and in this way they emerge from childhood themselves and prove they are adults.
That may be the way it has always been. But must it be the way of the future? Consider the many girls who have sacrificed their lives or their health because having babies before they were 18 was expected of them. Consider the countless babies who have died in the womb or in the first years of life because of this custom.
If you are newlyweds or young people planning to marry, you can use family planning methods to choose when to begin having children, how many to have, how far apart to have them, and when to stop.
If you are the parent or grandparent of newlyweds or young people planning to marry, you can talk to them about the dangers of too early pregnancy and the ways to avoid it. And you can speak up when other relatives wonder aloud why there is no baby yet.
And if you are a young, unwed girl listening to this program and thinking that none of this has anything to do with you, please think again. Many girls like you have been persuaded to please a young man. And many unexpected pregnancies have been the result. All the dangers of a too early pregnancy that face a young bride also face a young unmarried girl, and you will have few places to turn for help.
But how can you safely delay pregnancy until you are ready? There are many choices, whether you are married or unmarried, young or old. No one method of timing births is right for, or acceptable to, every person. The best course is to ask advice about family planning from the nearest trained health worker or family planning clinic.
- This script was prepared by Katie Gillmor Ellis, Toronto, Canada.
- This script was reviewed by:
Dr. Helen Gordon, Waterloo, Canada
Dr. Ivan Roma, Toronto, Canada
Cecilia Blanco, Director of Publications, Profamilia, Bogotá, Colombia
Anne Tinker, Senior Health Specialist, World Bank, Washington, D.C., USA
Dr. Robert Walley, Professor, Safe Motherhood Project, Memorial University, St John’s Newfoundland, Canada
- The publication of this script was made possible through the generous support of the Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada.
- My name is today, David Morley and Hermione Lovel, 1986, 359pp., Tropical Child Health Unit, Institute of Child Health, University of London, MacMillan Publishers.
- Safe motherhood action kit, 1992, Family Care International, 588 Broadway, Suite 510, New York, New York 10012, U.S.A. Also available in French and Spanish.
- Where there is no doctor, David Werner, 1992, 446pp., The Hesperian Foundation, P.O. Box 1692, Palo Alto, California 94302, U.S.A.
- Population Reports, The Johns Hopkins University, Center for Communication Programs, School of Hygiene and Public Health, 111 Market Place, Suite 310, Baltimore, Maryland, 21205, U.S.A. This is a series of reports on family planning and reproductive health available in English, French, Spanish, with some issues in Arabic, Portuguese, and Russian. They are sent free to developing countries.
- Who is a responsible man?, Volume 12, Number 4E, 8pp., World Neighbors in Action, World Neighbors International Headquarters, 5116 North Portland Avenue, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 73112, U.S.A. Demography, The Population Association of America, 1722 North St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036 2983, U.S.A.
- Facts for life, Peter Adamson, 1993, pages 1 15. UNICEF, UNICEF House DH 40, Facts for Life Unit, 3 UN Plaza, New York NY 10017, U.S.A.