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Helping Your Pregnant Teenager

Teen pregnancy can be one of the most difficult experiences an adolescent ever faces, but there are steps you can take to help your daughter deal with teen pregnancy. Understand how to support your adolescent as she faces the consequences of teen pregnancy.

Provide support—

Teen pregnancy is often a crisis for a young girl and her family, as well as the baby's father and his family. Common reactions include anger, guilt and denial. Your adolescent may also experience anxiety, fear, shock and depression. Your adolescent needs your love, guidance and support now more than ever. Talk to your adolescent about what she's feeling and the choices ahead.

Discuss the options—

A pregnant adolescent — along with her parents, the father of the baby and his parents — has a few options to consider:

• End the pregnancy. Some pregnant adolescents choose to end their pregnancies. If your daughter is considering abortion, make sure she understands the risks and the emotional consequences. Keep in mind that some states require parental notification for a legal abortion.
• Give the baby up for adoption. Some pregnant adolescents continue their pregnancies and give their babies up for adoption. If your daughter is considering adoption, help her explore the different types of adoption available. Also discuss the emotional consequences of giving a baby up for adoption.
• Keep the baby. Many pregnant adolescents keep their babies. Some marry the baby's father and raise the baby together. Others rely on family support to raise the baby. Finishing school and getting a good job can be difficult for an adolescent parent. If your daughter is thinking about keeping the baby, make sure she truly understands the challenges and responsibilities involved.

Encourage your pregnant adolescent to talk to her health care provider or an expert in pregnancy counseling about all of the options.

Understand the health risks—

Pregnant adolescents and their babies are at higher risk of health problems. Possible complications for pregnant adolescents, especially those younger than age 15, include:

• Anemia
• High blood pressure
• Premature labor

Possible complications for a baby born to an adolescent mother include:

• Low birth weight
• Premature birth

Promote proper prenatal care—

A pregnant adolescent can improve her chances of having a healthy baby by taking good care of herself. If your daughter decides to continue the pregnancy, encourage her to:

• Avoid risky substances. Alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs are off-limits during pregnancy. Even moderate alcohol use can harm a developing baby. Smoking increases the risk of preterm birth, problems with the placenta and low birth weight — and drugs your adolescent takes can pass from her to her baby, sometimes with devastating effects. Even prescription and over-the-counter medications deserve caution. Have your adolescent clear any medications or supplements with her health care provider ahead of time.

• Eat a healthy diet. During pregnancy, your adolescent will need more folic acid, calcium, iron, protein and other essential nutrients. A daily prenatal vitamin can help fill any gaps.

• Gain weight wisely. Gaining the right amount of weight can support the baby's health — and make it easier for your adolescent to lose the extra pounds after delivery. A weight gain of 25 to 35 pounds (about 11 to 16 kilograms) is often recommended for women who have a healthy weight before pregnancy. Pregnant adolescents may need to gain more weight. Have your adolescent work with her health care provider to determine what's right for her.

• Get tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Pregnant adolescents are more likely to have STDs than are older pregnant women. Many STDs — including chlamydia, syphilis and HIV — can harm the health of an infected mother and her baby.

• Seek prenatal care. During pregnancy, regular prenatal visits can help your adolescent's health care provider monitor your adolescent's health and the baby's health.

• Stay physically active. Regular physical activity can help ease or even prevent discomfort, boost your adolescent's energy level and improve her overall health. It also can help her prepare for labor and childbirth by increasing her stamina and muscle strength. Have your adolescent get her health care provider's OK before starting or continuing an exercise program, especially if she has a medical condition or hasn't exercised in a while.

• Take childbirth classes. These classes can help prepare your adolescent for pregnancy, childbirth, breast-feeding and being a parent.

If your adolescent lacks the finances or transportation necessary to obtain prenatal care, a social worker may be able to help.

Prepare for the future—

Teen pregnancy often has a negative impact on an adolescent's future. Adolescent mothers are less likely to graduate from high school, are more likely to live in poverty and are at risk of domestic violence. Adolescent fathers tend to finish fewer years of school than do older fathers. They're also less likely to earn a livable wage and hold a steady job. In addition, children of adolescent parents are more likely to have health and cognitive disorders and are more likely to be neglected or abused. Girls born to teenage parents are more likely to experience teen pregnancy themselves, and boys born to teenage parents are more likely to serve time in prison.

If your daughter decides to continue the pregnancy, address these challenges head-on. Discuss your adolescent's goals for the future and how she might go about achieving them as a parent. Look for special programs available to help pregnant adolescents remain in school or complete course work from home. Encourage your adolescent to take parenting classes and help her prepare to financially support and raise a child.

Whatever choice your adolescent makes, teen pregnancy can have a profound impact on her life. Be there for your adolescent as much as possible. Your love and support will help your daughter deal with pregnancy and the challenges ahead.

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