Improving antenatal care for pregnant adolescents in southern Malawi

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Abstract

Background.

This paper considers why antenatal care (ANC) programs for adolescents may need to be improved in areas where a high proportion of first pregnancies are to young girls.

Design.

Descriptive data on the characteristics of 615 adolescents (aged 10-19 years) who attended for a first antenatal care visit at two rural hospitals in southern Malawi are given. For the 41.5% who came for a supervised delivery, details of their pregnancy care and delivery outcome are provided. The Chi-square test is used for determining significant differences between age and parity groups and logistic regression for an analysis of low birthweight.

Results.

Fifty-two percent of girls were nulliparous, 24.5% were ≤16 years and 73.3% were illiterate. Prevalence of anemia, malaria and HIV infection was high. Girls who were nulliparous, illiterate, made early antenatal care visits or gave a history of stillbirth or abortion were less likely to attend for delivery. Few primiparae required an assisted vaginal delivery or cesarean section but primiparae had more adverse birth outcomes. Forty percent of primiparae <17 years gave birth to low birthweight babies as did 28.3% of multiparae. In a logistic regression (all adolescents) low birthweight was correlated with literacy (p=0.03) and number of antenatal care visits (p=0.01).

Conclusions.

Pregnancy morbidity and adverse birth outcomes were common in spite of antenatal care attendance. This partly reflects poor management of malaria during pregnancy. In areas like Malawi, where childbearing starts early, girls in their first pregnancy need good quality care and careful monitoring if problems are not to be perpetuated to a second pregnancy. Many girls start pregnancy with HIV and schistosomal infections which indicates the need for programs before girls become pregnant.

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