What is Teenage Pregnancy?
Teenage pregnancy is pregnancy in a woman 19 years of age or younger. A woman can get pregnant if she has vaginal sex with a man at any age after she’s begun having regular monthly periods.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015, almost 230,000 babies were born to American girls between the ages of 15 to 19.
While the number of teenage pregnancies in the United States has been in decline, it still remains higher than in other industrialized countries.
What are the signs of pregnancy?
You’ll probably first realize you’re pregnant when you skip a regular period. But if you get a very light period around the time you expect it, don’t assume you’re not pregnant. It’s possible to have very light bleeding in the first few weeks of pregnancy.
Signs of pregnancy include:
- missed or very light period
- breast tenderness
- weight gain
- feeling tired
- nausea, often in the morning
- feeling lightheaded
- swelling abdomen
Effects of teenage pregnancy on babies
A healthy pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. A baby that’s delivered before 37 weeks of pregnancy is
premature. Teen mothers are more likely to give birth to premature babies.
Sometimes, these babies lack complete development in their bodies and brains. Depending on how premature the baby is, this can lead to lifelong difficulties with health and development.
Premature babies also tend to be underweight. Underweight babies might have trouble breathing and feeding as infants. As adults, underweight babies are more susceptible to diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Low birth weight also affects brain development. Children who were born underweight have been observed to have learning difficulties.
In addition to having an increased risk of being underweight, infants born to teenage mothers are also at a higher risk of infant mortality.
How does teenage pregnancy affect teen fathers?
Fathering a child as a teenager can be a frightening and life-changing event. Teen fathers don’t have to worry about the health implications of pregnancy and childbirth, but they could face similar difficulties staying in school and earning a living.
State laws vary on the legal age for people to have sexual intercourse.
Arrest or legal action against teens who are sexually active can have devastating effects. A young man may be required to register as a sex offender if he has reached the legal age (age 18 in some states) and his partner has not (age 17 or under).
How does teenage pregnancy affect teen mothers?
Teens are at a higher risk for pregnancy-related high blood pressure (preeclampsia) and its complications than average age mothers. Risks for the baby include premature birth and low birth weight. Preeclampsia can also harm the kidneys or even be fatal for mother or baby.
Pregnant teens also have a higher chance of becoming anemic. Anemia is a reduction in the number of red blood cells (RBCs). This can make you feel weak and tired and can affect your baby’s development.
Giving birth in the United States is safer than ever, but it’s still more dangerous for a teen than for a woman 20 or older. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), complications during pregnancy or childbirth are the leading cause of death globally for girls ages 15 to 19.
If you get pregnant as a teen, you might feel frightened and worried about telling your family and friends. Not talking to someone and not getting the help and support you need, can make you feel more isolated and depressed. This can lead to problems in home and at school.
Many pregnant teens drop out of school, and some never complete their education. That means a lot of mothers who get pregnant as teenagers live in poverty.
Women who first got pregnant as teens are more likely to have more than one child. About one in five births to a teen mother is a repeat birth. A woman with little education and multiple children to care for will find it very difficult to earn a living.
How is pregnancy diagnosed?
Most supermarkets and drugstores sell home pregnancy tests. These tests are designed to detect pregnancy hormones in your urine. They’re most accurate if you use them more than a week after your missed period.
If a home pregnancy test indicates you’re not pregnant, wait a week, and take another test to make sure.
If a home test shows you’re pregnant, you need to make an appointment with your doctor. They’ll confirm your pregnancy with a blood test and maybe a physical exam.
What are the options for teenagers who are pregnant?
Teens who become pregnant may be afraid to see a doctor, but it’s extremely important for the safety of the mother and the unborn child.
Your doctor should discuss all options with you regarding your pregnancy, including:
- abortion, or ending the pregnancy medically
- giving birth and raising the child yourself
- adoption, or giving birth and legally permitting someone else to raise your child
Ideally, the future father and family members of both mother and father will be involved in making the best decisions. However, this isn’t always possible.
Birth control clinics and public health offices can provide counseling information to help you make the right choices for you and your baby.
Is it possible for a teenager to have a healthy baby?
Teen moms can have healthy babies. Make sure you see your doctor as soon as you know you’re pregnant, and attend all your scheduled appointments.
Proper obstetrical care throughout your pregnancy is so important to the health and well-being of both the mother and the baby. Eat well, exercise, and confide in supportive friends and family members.
Cigarette smoking during pregnancy has been shown to lower birth weight and cause babies to be born prematurely. You shouldn’t smoke during pregnancy.
Drugs and alcohol can have very damaging effects on a mother and her unborn child. Don’t drink alcohol or use illicit drugs during pregnancy. If you think you might be addicted to drugsor alcohol, ask your doctor about counseling and treatment programs to help you quit.
Only take the medicines your doctor prescribes. Make sure your doctor knows about any over-the-counter (OTC) medicines you are taking.
It’s important for all pregnant women to get proper medical care regardless of how old they are. But because teens’ bodies are still developing, seeing a doctor regularly is especially important for teen mothers.
What should you expect during prenatal visits?
You’ll see a lot of your doctor during your pregnancy.
During the first six months, you’ll probably have an appointment at least once every month. In the last months of your pregnancy, you may see your doctor every other week, ending with weekly visits in your final month. These visits are to make sure you and your baby are healthy.
At the doctor’s office, you’ll be weighed, your blood pressure will be taken, and your stomach will be measured. As your baby develops, the doctor will feel its position and listen for its heartbeat.
Your doctor will ask how you’re feeling and if you have any questions. They’ll usually then explain what you can expect during the upcoming weeks of your pregnancy.
It’s a good idea to write down any questions or concerns you have so that you can remember to ask them during your appointment. Make sure you talk to your doctor about your health, the baby’s health, and any emotional or family concerns you have.
See your doctor right away if you have:
- pain or burning during urination
- leaking of fluid from your vagina
- dimness or blurring of vision
- abdominal pain
- persistent vomiting
- chills or fever
- any vaginal bleeding
- severe or continuous headache
- swelling or pain in your legs
What prescription birth control methods are available?
Prescription birth control is available through your doctor or a women’s health clinic.
Intrauterine device (IUD)
An intrauterine device (IUD) is a device a doctor implants in your uterus. The procedure is well tolerated, and hospitalization isn’t required. The IUD prevents pregnancy by various mechanisms. It has a 99 percent rate of effectiveness, according to Planned Parenthood.
IUDs are sold under the following brand names:
Birth control implant
Several birth control methods affect hormone levels in your body, so you’re less likely to get pregnant. The most effective is a birth control implant, also called Nexplanon.
This is a very small plastic stick that’s inserted under the skin of your arm. Implants stay in place for up to three years. They have a 99 percent rate of effectiveness.
Birth control pills, shots, and patches also affect your hormone levels. They have an effectiveness rate of 91 to 94 percent. Examples of available brands include:
- Alesse, Apri, Enpresse, Loestrin, Ortho-Novum, Yasmin, and many more (pills)
- Depo-Provera (shot)
- Ortho Evra (patch)
The diaphragm and cervical cap (FemCap) are devices you place in your vagina when you’re going to have sex. They block sperm from entering your uterus. The effectiveness of these devices is 71 to 88 percent.
What over-the-counter birth control methods are available?
You can also buy over-the-counter (OTC) birth control at a drugstore and some supermarkets. These methods are not as effective as prescription birth control, but they do reduce your chance of getting pregnant.
Birth control sponge
Sponges treated with spermicide also block sperm from entering your uterus. Used properly, these methods prevent pregnancy with an effectiveness of 76 to 88 percent. The brand of sponge sold in the United States is called the Today Sponge.
Teen pregnancy rates have been dropping in the United States for at least 25 years. Experts think this is because more sexually active teens use condoms.
Proper use of a condom can keep you from getting pregnant. When used correctly, condoms also protect you from many sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The effectiveness of condoms is 85 percent.
Available from the brands Plan B One-Step, Ella, and Next Choice, this medicine contains hormones that prevent your body from releasing eggs into your uterus and cause the lining of the uterus to shed, inhibiting implantation.
Eggs have to come into contact with sperm for you to get pregnant and need to implant in order to start developing properly.
The morning-after pill might be a good choice for you if you think your regular birth control didn’t work or you weren’t using birth control. Women 17 and older do not need a prescription for the morning-after pill.
The effectiveness of the morning-after pills such as Plan B One-Step and Next Choice is 75 to 89 percent if taken within three days of having unprotected sex, according to Planned Parenthood. The effectiveness of the Ella morning-after pill is 85 percent if you take it within five days of having unprotected sex.
How can teenage pregnancy be prevented?
The only way to be sure you won’t get pregnant is to not have sexual intercourse. However, there are many methods to reduce your chances of becoming pregnant if you’re sexually active.
According to a study published in the journal PLoS One, an abstinence-only sex education was positively correlated with an increase in teen pregnancies.
Many communities offer counseling and support programs that help prevent teen pregnancy.
These groups can provide information on birth control and help teens understand their own sexual limits so they don’t get into situations where they might have unprotected sex and get pregnant.
Some programs offer peer counseling, since it might feel more comfortable talking to someone your own age. Contact your health department for information on programs in your area.
What’s the takeaway for people affected by teenage pregnancy?
Although teens can often safely deliver healthy babies, there are possible health concerns for both mother and child. If you become pregnant, you should see your doctor as soon as possible to discuss your pregnancy.
There are many methods available to help prevent pregnancy, including IUDs, birth control pills, and condoms.
Additionally, many groups, such as SHIFT NC in North Carolina and Planned Parenthood, offer support or counseling programs for teens. You should also be sure to look for regional groups in your state or city.