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Why Children of Teen Moms Suffer Developmental Delays

Update Date: Oct 17, 2013 12:12 PM EDT

Children born to teen mothers have poorer speaking skills at the age of five than those with older mothers, according to a new study.

Researchers said this is probably because of social factors and not because children of teen moms lag in cognitive skills.

"We don't believe that having a baby in your teens is the cause of underdeveloped speaking skills," lead author Dr. Julia Morinis, of the Center for Research on Inner City Health of St. Michael's Hospital in Canada said in a news release. "It's likely that being a teen mother is a risk factor that indicates poorer circumstance for development opportunities in some cases."

Researchers explain that children born to teen mothers don't differ from those born to older mothers after influential factors like socioeconomic status and education are taken into account.

Researchers assessed the non-verbal and verbal skills of 12,000 children in the Millennium Cohort Study, a long-term nationally representative study of children born between 2000 and 2001 across the United Kingdom.

The findings revealed that 5 percent of the children's mothers were aged 18 or younger, 20 percent were aged between 19 and 24, 28 percent were aged between 25 and 29 and 35 percent were between 30 and 35. Only 12 percent of mothers included in the study were aged 35 and above.

Researchers assessed the children at 5 years old.

The study revealed that children born to teen moms had lower verbal and nonverbal scores than those born to older mothers. However, this was only true when researchers only accounted for the child's birth weight, gestational age and sex.

Researchers found that the differences between children born to teen mothers and those born to older moms almost disappeared after accounting for perinatal and social factors.

Perinatal factors included poor antenatal care, smoking during the pregnancy, the absence of breastfeeding, and being a second or subsequent child. Social factors included absence of father in the home, mother's educational attainment, household income, job, mental health, childcare and parenting behaviors.

Teen mothers were significantly more likely to have their pregnancy confirmed only after 30 weeks, and not to receive any antenatal care. The study also revealed that only 7 percent of teen moms breastfed their babies for 4 or more months compared with 41 percent of the mothers aged 30 to 34.

While the difference in verbal skills scores remained among children born to teen mothers compared to children born to mothers aged 25 to 34, researchers said the apparent developmental delay fell from 11 months to 5 months after accounting for social and perinatal factors.

"Most differences in non-verbal and spatial abilities between these two groups of children can be attributed to significant sociodemographic inequalities in circumstance," explained Morinis. "But for verbal ability, there seems to be more going on."

"Being a teenage mother significantly limits one's ability to gain further education and higher level employment, which may in turn affect child development," researchers wrote.

The findings are published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.

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