Public Health Wales is reminding women of the benefits of a planned pregnancy, as a new report confirms the link between congenital anomalies and teenage pregnancy.
The annual report from the Congenital Anomaly Register and Information Service (CARIS) at Public Health Wales has confirmed that women who become pregnant while they are teenagers are at increased risk of their baby developing certain congenital anomalies.
The report finds that teenage mothers in Wales are up to four times more likely to have a baby with a condition where their abdominal wall doesn’t close properly (gastroschisis) than mothers aged 20-34.
Teenage mothers are also significantly more likely to have a baby with a neural tube defect such as spina bifida, or a missing or shortened limb, and also slightly more likely to have a baby with a heart problem known as a double outlet right ventricle.
However, the overall risk of congenital anomalies remains low, with only 4.5% of all live births in Wales having an anomaly. Evidence shows that women of all ages can significantly reduce the risk of anomalies by planning early for their pregnancy, and by making sure their body is in the best condition before they conceive.
Linda Bailey, Consultant in Public Health for Public Health Wales, said: “Although the risk of each of these conditions is low, this new data about congenital anomalies in Wales confirms that women in their teens are at increased risk of their baby developing a congenital anomaly. However, there are some simple steps all women can take to reduce their risk of having a pregnancy affected by a congenital anomaly, and to protect their baby.
“Women who are thinking of having a baby should take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, from before they are pregnant until at least 12 weeks into the pregnancy. They should also exercise, stop smoking, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
“We would also advise that mums-to-be make sure they have had two MMR vaccinations prior to conceiving. By taking these simple steps, women can reduce the risk of their child developing a congenital anomaly.”
Between 1998 and 2014, 29,642 cases of congenital anomaly were reported to CARIS.
The five most common groups of anomaly in descending order are circulatory, limb, musculoskeletal, urinary and digestive.
CARIS aims to provide reliable data on congenital anomalies in Wales, which can be used to assess patterns of anomalies, including possible clusters and their causes and to inform the work of health services, including antenatal screening.