Impact of unintended pregnancies on public health

Compared with intended pregnancy, unintended pregnancies have a potential public health impact.

Potential health impact, compared with intended pregnancy


• More likely to behave in a way that could increase the risks to their baby e.g. smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy1
• Later pre-natal care2
• Increased risk of antenatal and postnatal depression1
• Greater mood disturbance e.g. greater anxiety at 12 months post partum1
• Disruption of the life of a woman, education missed, careers missed, stress and consequences for her life2


• Increased risk of poor school performance or neglect1
• Where the mother is <17 years their children start school with deficits in cognition, knowledge and language development (even where background characteristics are accounted for)3
• More likely to require psychiatric treatment (including in-patient) at any time in life (this study followed children for up to 35 years)4


•In couples, lower levels of positive interaction at 3, 12 and 24 months after birth1


On the macro level, the public health, health systems, and economic impact of unintended pregnancy are also considerable.5

A US study shows the positive effect, on health and welfare costs, of reducing unintended pregnancy:

“Through the provision of effective methods of contraception to low-income individuals who have limited access to these services elsewhere, California’s family planning program averted an estimated 205,000 unintended pregnancies, averting nearly 94,000 live births and 79,000 abortions. The program saved federal, state, and local governments over $1.1 billion within 2 years after a pregnancy and $2.2 billion up to 5 years after.”6          


1.Grussu P et al. Birth 2005; 32(2): 107-114.
2.Committee on Unintended Pregnancy, Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Science. Brown S and L Einsenberg, editors. The Best Intentions: Unintended Pregnancy and the Well-Being of Children and Families. ISBN 13 978-0309052306.
3.Terry-Humen E et al. Playing catch-up: How children born to teenage mothers fare. Available at: Accessed October 2013.
4.David HP. Health Matters 2006; 14(27): 181-190.
5.UNFPA State of world population 2012. Accessed at: October 2013.
6.Amaral G et al. Health Serv Res 2007; 42(5): 1960-80.