Teenage pregnancies carry greater risks to the health of both mother and baby than pregnancies of mothers in their 20’s or 30’s. Teenage pregnancies are generally unexpected, unplanned for, and often met with shock, stress, worry and fear. Most pregnant teens keep the pregnancy secret for as long as possible, as they try to figure out how to handle it. They may confide in a friend, but the focus is on pretending to the world that it isn’t happening. Due to fear of the reactions of parents, teachers, coaches, relatives, and friends, the average pregnant teen keeps the pregnancy secret for three months.
Some sources estimate that seven out of ten teen mothers do not receive prenatal care in the first three months of pregnancy, a crucial time for the baby’s development and a time when complications can arise for the mother. Prenatal vitamins can help prevent birth defects and are essential in the first few months to ensure mother and baby are getting the nutrients they need. An average teen diet is not adequate to nourish a growing baby. Routine prenatal medical visits monitor the baby’s growth and development and screen the mother for potential problems, allowing doctors to intervene with appropriate preventive care when needed. The lack of prenatal care poses an unnecessary health risk to both mother and baby.
A common problem during teen pregnancy is high blood pressure sometimes called pregnancy induced hypertension. Teen pregnancies also have a high risk of Preeclampsia characterized by swelling of the hands, legs, and feet along with excess protein in the urine. Untreated, this condition can lead to Eclampsia, a very serious health risk for the mother. Teen pregnancies carry a greater than normal risk for preeclampsia.
The premature birth rate is high for teen girls, as is the rate of full term babies born with low birth weight. A low birth weight infant is often born with organs that are not fully developed. Lung development and respiratory problems are commonplace in underweight newborns. Cerebral palsy, heart conditions, vision loss, intestinal problems or bleeding in the brain are all possibilities for babies born before they are fully developed.
Some of the causes of low birth weight babies are fashion conscious, undernourished, thin, pregnant teens, unhealthy fast food or junk food diets, lack of prenatal care, the use of alcohol, drugs or cigarettes during pregnancy, or high levels of stress due to the lack of a support system for the pregnant teen. The younger the mother, the greater the incidence of pregnancy complications. In teenage mothers younger than fifteen, there is a high infant mortality rate. Young girl’s bodies are just not equipped to handle a pregnancy.
Many pregnant teens believe they can continue to party with their friends, including drinking alcohol, which has been proven to damage a baby’s development. Some babies are born with fetal alcohol syndrome and suffer through withdrawal symptoms. Often teens who smoked or took drugs before the pregnancy continue these behaviors. If continued use occurs during the pregnancy, the baby may be born with a drug or Nicotine addiction. The incidence of babies born with addictions is greatest in teen pregnancies.
Expectant teen mothers experience a significantly higher incidence of emotional problems including isolation and loneliness, stress, guilt and depression. Without a good support system, two thirds of teen mothers drop out of school, work at minimum wage jobs, struggle to get by and eventually end up on welfare rolls. The future for the mother and baby is one of living in poverty.
As difficult as it may be, the best option for a teen who finds herself pregnant is to ask for help. Tap into a support system as soon as possible, start prenatal care immediately and perhaps enlist the assistance of a counselor to help with the emotional and physical adjustments necessary to handle pregnancy and parenthood.