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Publication #FAR5124

Unplanned Pregnancy’s Effects on Mothers and Children1

Carol Church2

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Nearly half of all pregnancies in the US today are unplanned. Though this surprise can be a wonderful one, it can also be a difficult adjustment. Indeed, some studies connect unplanned pregnancies with higher levels of stress and depression in mothers in the early months (Nelson & O’Brien, 2012).

But could the aftereffects of an unintended pregnancy linger even longer? A new study in the Journal of Family Issues suggests so. Researchers followed more than 1600 families for 15 years, interviewing mothers of both planned and unplanned children soon after their babies were born and then at regular intervals until the children were in ninth grade. Mothers reported on their stress and depression levels; later, when the children were older, both they and their mothers rated the quality of their relationship (Nelson & O’Brien, 2012).

Having an unplanned pregnancy didn’t seem to have long-term effects on relationship quality when mothers had low levels of stress or already had other children. But when mothers of unplanned firstborns were stressed, they became depressed and had more troubled relationships with their teens years later. As for mothers with an unplanned pregnancy who already had children, they were more stressed in the short term, but less likely to experience depression and parent-child relationship struggles in the long term (Nelson & O’Brien, 2012).

Although new babies bring plenty of joy, an unplanned pregnancy can also be difficult. These researchers suggest that mothers learn positive coping skills in the early years to reduce their own stress and support the long-term health of their family relationships (Nelson & O’Brien, 2012).

Listening, learning, and living together: it’s the science of life. “Family Album” is a co-production of University of Florida IFAS Extension and the UF Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences. If you’d like to learn more, please visit our website at, or find Family Album Radio on Facebook.

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Nelson, J. A., & O’Brien, M. (2012). Does an unplanned pregnancy have long-term implications for mother-child relationships? Journal of Family Issues, 33(4), 506-526. doi: 10.1177/0192513X11420820.



This document is FAR5124 one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original broadcast date March 11, 2012, as program 1881. Published on EDIS February 2013. In the interest of time and/or clarity, the broadcast version of this script may have been modified. Visit the EDIS website at


Carol Church, writer, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.