19 MAY 2017
BY EMMA MCKAY, Research Manager at Young Women's Trust

Young Women’s Trust have known for some time that when it comes to seeking work, being a mother throws extra obstacles in the way of young women. In our 2015 report Scarred for Life young mothers told us that they could not just take work as a ‘quick fix’ – it needed to pay adequately and fit around their caring responsibilities. One young woman told us:

The biggest barrier to accessing education, employment and training has been having children.

However, there has been little recent research about young mothers and their everyday lives. Accordingly, last year Young Women’s Trust decided to conduct research directly with mothers aged under 25 to let them tell us about their concerns and where they would like to see change.

One point that came up repeatedly in the focus groups we ran was the bad reputation that comes with being a young mum. Mothers often felt judged poorly by others for having children at their age. A shocking 73% of those we surveyed had experienced people being rude or unpleasant to them when they were out with their children. It was common for them to have their parenting criticised in public, or to have comments made to them in the street or on public transport.

Especially the older generation, they give you dirty looks on the street.

What did I get? ‘Are both your children from the same dad?’ Yes they are thanks.

It was not just members of the public who treated young mums differently because of their age. Mothers also told us that interactions with GPs and medical professionals left them feeling as if they had not been taken seriously. 79% had felt patronised by nurses, midwives or health visitors, and 74% said that doctors had dismissed their concerns about their children’s health. Several mothers told us about times they had rebooked appointments with a GP, taken an older relative along and on the second time been treated with more respect. At the same time, almost two-thirds of young mums said they saw GPs more frequently since having a child and 55% said their contact with other health professionals had increased.

Almost half of young mothers regularly miss meals to provide for their children

It is wrong that young women feel denigrated when going about their daily lives and using necessary health services. It is even more concerning when considered alongside the other ways having a baby disrupts young mothers’ lives. Mothers told us that their contact with their friends decreased. 57% of young mothers said they had become lonelier since becoming a mother, and 26% left the house once a week or less. Laura, one of the mothers involved in our research said:

I felt very isolated when I had my first child. It was all new to me and very scary… you lose the majority of your friends which doesn’t help your emotional well-being.

If a young woman is living on a tight budget, this can exacerbate her reluctance to go out since it often costs money to do activities with children outside the house. Money emerged as a worry for young mothers with 46% regularly missing meals in order to provide for their children.

As a result of our research, Young Women’s Trust are recommending that the National Health Service review its practice and any training it provides to counter discriminatory attitudes among its healthcare staff. We also think it’s important for young mothers to be sought out and meaningfully involved in patient involvement groups. Finally, Young Women’s Trust have recommended that one-to-one support or mentorship be made available for young mothers who are isolated. This would create benefits for them, their children and help them prepare for returning to work.

Emma McKay, Research Manager at Young Womens TrustABOUT AUTHOR

Emma McKay works as Research Manager at Young Women's Trust, a charity that supports and represents women aged 16-30 in England and Wales living on low or no pay. What matters to young mums? was published in March 2017 and is available to read on the Young Women’s Trust’s website.