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Teenage mothers 'feel stigmatised'

Teenage mothers want to be good parents, but feel stigmatised by professionals, family, government and media - and therefore by society as a whole.

A study of 50 first-time mothers aged from 16 to 39 in a disadvantaged Midlands Sure Start area found that mothers of all ages had similar attitudes, recognising the value of showing books to babies and of talking to them, for instance. But the teenagers did not understand as much about how to develop infants' communication skills. They were less likely to look at books with babies, and more likely to feel comfortable about giving their babies dummies, Few realised that giving a baby a dummy can prevent it from practising sounds.

However, the teenagers believed strongly in the importance of their child's future education.

There was no "significant statistical association" between age and unplanned pregnancy among the mothers in the study. But teenagers felt that the professionals they dealt with expected poorer outcomes for their child, and that people in general disapproved of them. "They look at me as if I'm nothing", said one.

The study found some similarities between the youngest and the oldest groups of mothers; for instance, both depended more on professional support.

The report's author, Dr Judy Whitmarsh of Wolverhampton university, says the findings "raise questions about how we promote early literacy, particularly to younger mothers".

J.Whitmarsh@wlv.ac.uk

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