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Pregnancy in Adolescence

Pregnancy in adolescence is often a crisis for a young lady and her family, as well as the child's dad and his family. Common reactions include anger, guilt and denial. Your adolescent might also experience anxiety, fear, shock and depression. Talk to your teenager about what she's feeling and the choices ahead. She needs your love, guidance and support now more than ever.

A pregnant adolescent (along with her mom and dad, the father of the child and his mom and dad) has a variety of options to consider:

• Terminate the pregnancy. Some pregnant adolescents choose to end their pregnancies. If your teenager is considering abortion, discuss the risks and the emotional consequences. Keep in mind that some states require parental notification for a legal abortion.

• Give the child up for adoption. Some pregnant adolescents choose to give their child up for adoption. If your teenager is considering adoption, help her explore the different types of adoption available. Also discuss the emotional impact of giving a child up for adoption.

• Keep the child. Many pregnant adolescents keep their child. Some marry the child's dad and raise the child together. Others rely on family support to raise the child. Finishing school and getting a good job can be difficult for an adolescent parent, however. If your teenager is thinking about keeping the child, make sure she understands the challenges and responsibilities involved. In addition to talking to you, encourage your teenager to talk about the options with her health care provider or a specialist in pregnancy counseling.

Pregnant adolescents and their children are at higher risk of health problems than are pregnant females who are older. The most common complications for pregnant adolescents (especially those younger than age 15 and those who don't receive prenatal care) include a low level of iron in the blood (i.e., anemia) and preterm labor. Some research suggests that pregnant adolescents might be more likely to develop high blood pressure as well. Children born to adolescent moms are more likely to be born prematurely and have a low birth weight. A pregnant adolescent can improve her chances of having a healthy boy or girl by taking good care of herself. 

If your teenager decides to continue the pregnancy, encourage her to do the following:

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

• Maintain a healthy diet. During pregnancy, your teenager will need more folic acid, calcium, iron, protein and other essential nutrients. A daily prenatal vitamin can help fill any gaps. In addition, your teenager might need extra calcium and phosphorus because her own bones are still growing.

• Gain weight sensibly. Gaining the right amount of weight can support the child's health — and make it easier for your adolescent to lose the extra pounds after delivery. A weight gain of 25 to 35 pounds is often recommended for females who have a healthy weight before pregnancy. Pregnant adolescents may need to gain more weight. Encourage your teenager to work with her health care provider to determine what's right for her.

• Get tested for infections. Sexually transmitted infections (e.g., gonorrhea, Chlamydia, syphilis) can increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, birth defects and other pregnancy complications. If your adolescent has a sexually transmitted infection, treatment is critical.

• Get prenatal care. During pregnancy, regular prenatal visits can help your teenager's health care provider monitor her health and the child's health.

• Exercise. 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. Encourage your teenager to get her health care provider's permission before starting or continuing an exercise program, especially if she has an underlying medical condition.

• Take child birth classes. These classes can help prepare your teenager for pregnancy, child birth, breast-feeding and being a parent. If your teenager lacks the finances or transportation needed to obtain prenatal care — or needs help continuing her education — a counselor or social worker might be able to help.

Pregnancy in adolescence often has a negative impact on an adolescent's future. Adolescent moms are less likely to graduate from high school and to attend college, are more likely to live in poverty, and are at risk of domestic violence. Adolescent dads tend to finish fewer years of school than do older dads. They're also less likely to earn a livable wage and hold a steady job. In addition, kids of adolescent mothers and fathers are more likely to have health and cognitive conditions and are more likely to be neglected or abused. Females born to adolescent moms and dads are more likely to experience teen pregnancy themselves.

If your teenager decides to continue the pregnancy, address these challenges head-on. Discuss her goals for the future and how she might go about achieving them as a mother. Look for special programs available to help pregnant adolescents remain in school or complete course work from home. Encourage your teenager to take parenting classes, and help her prepare to financially support and raise a youngster. Whatever choice your teenager makes, be there for her as much as possible. Your love and support will help her deal with pregnancy and the challenges ahead.

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