Purpose: To identify prevalence and correlates, including substance use and exposure to violence, of feeling stigmatized by being pregnant as an adolescent.
Methods: A total of 925 low-income African-American, Mexican-American, and Caucasian pregnant adolescents aged </= 18 years were interviewed on the postpartum ward of a university hospital within 48 hours of delivery. Correlates of stigma were identified among self-reported behaviors such as substance use, exposure to violence, family support and criticism, as well as reproductive and sociodemographic characteristics.
Results: Two out of five adolescents (39.1%) reported feeling stigmatized by their pregnancy. As compared with their nonstigmatized peers, stigmatized adolescents were more likely to report having seriously considered abortion, being afraid to tell parents about pregnancy, feeling that parents/teachers thought pregnancy a mistake, and feeling abandoned by the fathers of their babies. Stepwise logistic regression revealed the following correlates independently associated with feeling stigmatized: white race/ethnicity, not being legally/common-law married or engaged to the baby's father, feelings of social isolation, aspirations to complete college, experiencing verbal abuse or being fearful of being hurt by other teenagers, and experiencing family criticism. In contrast, greater self-esteem and having dropped out of school before conception were protective of reporting feelings of stigma.
Conclusions: Significant proportions of pregnant adolescents feel stigmatized by pregnancy and are at increased risk of social isolation and abuse. These young women may need special attention during and after pregnancy to develop concrete strategies to care for themselves and their children to complete their education and avoid becoming clinically depressed.