Teenage Pregnancy | Action Medical Research | Children's Charity | Children's Charity

Teenage Pregnancy: babies at risk

This research was completed on 31 January 2010

Published on 6 October 2006

Teenage pregnancy is a major issue in the UK. Sadly, babies born to teenage mothers are at increased risk of suffering health problems. Researchers are investigating whether the mother’s own growth or sometimes poor diet can damage her placenta, as this damage may harm the baby. The ultimate aim is to develop nutritional therapies that might improve the health of both teenage mums and their babies.

What's the problem and who does it affect?

Pregnant teenagers suffer more complications

The UK has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe1 Three percent of teenage girls get pregnant when they’re just 15 to 19 years old2

These teenage girls are at increased risk of suffering from complications during their pregnancy. They are particularly susceptible to having a small baby, with an abnormally low birth weight, and to giving birth prematurely.

What is the project trying to achieve?

Baby’s health can suffer

Effects on the baby can be devastating. For example, very small babies are 60% more likely to suffer health problems or, sadly, to die at birth.3 Many need neonatal intensive care and they can go on to suffer lifelong disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, and learning difficulties or poor cognitive development. These problems are extremely distressing for the babies’ young mothers, who also have to cope with the personal and social difficulties of giving birth during their teenage years.

To make matters worse, research shows babies with low birth weights are at increased risk of suffering from long-term health problems that begin much later in life, such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

What are the researchers' credentials?

Project LeaderDr R L Jones PhD
Project team
  • Professor Colin P Sibley PhD
  • Professor Philip N Baker DM FRCOG
  • Professor John RG Challis DSc FRSC
LocationAcademic Unit of Child Health, and Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre, University of Manchester
DurationThree years
Grant awarded6 July 2006
Start date1 October 2006
End date31 January 2010
Grant amount£104,008.00
Grant codeSP4141

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The project leader, Dr Rebecca Jones, has conducted research into reproductive biology for 10 years. She has in-depth knowledge of the interactions between mother and baby during pregnancy. Professor Colin Sibley is a world-renowned researcher into the function of the placenta, and Professor Challis has performed many studies into the effects of nutrition on the placenta and baby, Professor Philip Baker, a consultant obstetrician with expertise in intrauterine growth restriction, runs a specialised clinic for pregnant teenagers at St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester. Professor Baker also heads the Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre in Manchester, where this study will take place. This is the largest centre of its kind in Europe, conducting cutting-edge, clinically-orientated scientific research into pregnancy complications. With their joint expertise, the specialised facilities at their research centre, and their ongoing studies of the health of teenage girls, the team is uniquely placed to conduct this study.

Who stands to benefit from this research and how?


In England and Wales, almost 60,000 live babies were born to teenage girls in the year 20032 This represents roughly 10% of all the babies born that year4 Worldwide, a staggering 15 million teenagers give birth each year – which accounts for one-fifth of all babies born5

In the short term, this study should provide important new information on why teenage mothers are so susceptible to having babies with low birth weights. It will determine whether their placentas are different from those of adults, and reveal whether the mother’s growth, and her diet, can cause these differences.

In the longer term, the knowledge gained during this study could lead to the development of new nutritional therapies for pregnant teenagers. In theory, these therapies might help the teenagers’ babies grow healthily in the womb. This might help prevent some cases of premature birth, reduce the need for neonatal intensive care and stop babies from developing lifelong disabilities. It might even have the potential to decrease the babies’ risk of developing chronic illnesses such as heart disease in later life.

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