When a woman under 19 years of age gets pregnant, it is an adolescent or teenage pregnancy. Nearly 21 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 get pregnant, and approximately 12 million of them give birth each year in developing countries. In this, approximately 10 million teenage girls may have an unintended pregnancy, and nearly 777,000 pregnancies occur in girls below age 15 (1).
Teenage pregnancy is concerning since it can be associated with a higher risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. High blood pressure, anemia, and infections are common in teen mothers. In many cases, babies can also be prematurely born or have low weight (1). Read on to know the pregnancy symptoms, health risks, and other challenges of teen pregnancy and ways to cope with it.
Signs And Symptoms Of Teenage Pregnancy
Signs and symptoms of teenage pregnancy can be similar to pregnancy symptoms in women of other age groups. Missing the menstrual period can be the initial sign of pregnancy. However, teenage girls can have missed periods or irregular periods due to different reasons.
You may have to confirm pregnancy with a urine pregnancy test or visit a gynecologist for the exact cause of missed menstruation.
The other signs and symptoms of pregnancy may include (2):
- Light vaginal bleeding from implantation of a fertilized ovum (egg) into the uterine wall
- Swollen and tender breasts and nipples due to hormonal changes
- Fatigue caused by increased progesterone hormone
- Headaches due to rising hormone levels
- Morning sickness, namely nausea and vomiting. Although it is called morning sickness, it may occur at any time
- Frequent urination due to the increase in the human chorionic gonadotrophins (hCG) hormones, which leads to increased blood flow to the pelvic regions in the initial weeks of pregnancy and due to the pressure on the urinary bladder from the growing womb during the later trimesters.
- Food aversions and cravings
- Mood swings
These symptoms can also be seen in other medical conditions, and the symptoms may vary among girls. You may seek the help of health care providers for the exact diagnosis.
Why Can Teenage Pregnancy Be A Problem?
Teenage childbearing is associated with a higher risk of pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. Most teen girls may not be matured enough for childbearing and childcare.
Babies born to teenage girls may have health problems due to inadequate prenatal care. Lack of prenatal vitamins, minerals, and other forms of care may increase the risk of health issues in both mothers and babies.
Most teen pregnancies are unintended and may have severe consequences for a teen’s mental and physical health. Social issues and lack of financial support could affect the psychological well-being of young women, and they may often develop depression and ignorance towards infants.
Along with the health risks, it can be difficult for teen mothers to seek proper prenatal care if they do not have financial resources. It will be hard for them to take care of themselves and their education along with the baby.
Lack or delay in prenatal care can be the primary reason for most of the health risks of adolescent pregnancy. A pregnant teen may be vulnerable to developing the following health problems (3).
- Excess or poor weight gain
- Undernutrition or malnutrition
- Eclampsia (seizures in pregnant women with preeclampsia, that is, organ failure due to high blood pressure)
Babies born to teen mothers may also have certain health risks, including (3):
- Low birth weight
- Premature birth
- Congenital malformations
- High risk of sudden infant death syndrome
- Risk of mental retardation, brain damage and birth injuries
The absence of a family support system and a lack of income sources can further make teen pregnancy challenging. Unintended pregnancy may cause postpartum depression and postpartum blues in some teenage mothers.
Being a mother of more than a child can be extremely difficult for teen parents, especially for single mothers without support.
What Are The Probable Consequences Of Teenage Pregnancy?
The significant consequences of teen pregnancy may include the following (4).
- Unintended and unplanned pregnancies could result in less interest and chances of mother to seek prenatal care. Some pregnancies are identified in later trimesters, and the mother may not be able to receive early prenatal care. Lack of prenatal care could have adverse outcomes.
- Financial burden and poverty can cause extreme hardship for teen parents who lack family support or other financial resources.
- Teen mothers may have difficulties in balancing newborn care and education. Statistics show that only 3% of teenage mothers were able to finish graduate school before the age of 30 years (4).
- Childcare can be stressful for young people due to a lack of knowledge and family support.
- Single mothers may have additional emotional problems and relationship troubles, along with other struggles.
- Financial difficulties and emotional issues may also cause a lack or delay in postpartum care and newborn care.
- Mothers who are under 15 years of age may have a more challenging time coping with childbirth.
- Unintended pregnancies may result from sexual assault or child marriage. These cases require additional medical care.
Altogether, it is not easy for a child to take care of another child. Many teen parents may not be able to ensure the well-being of the newborn since they lack resources and knowledge.
How To Reduce The Risks Of Teen Pregnancy?
The best method to reduce the risk of teen pregnancy is to educate children about reproductive health from an early age. There are many ways to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse, thus seek medical care for appropriate prescriptions.
- Reproductive education helps reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies among teenage girls.
- You can develop strong bonding with your child to make them comfortable to share any incidence of sexual abuse or unprotected sex.
- Have a two-way conversation about sex and your teen’s perception of it. Gradually acquaint the teen about the consequences of unprotected sex and teenage pregnancy.
- Teenage is the phase when dating tends to begin. Acquaint the teen with ways of setting boundaries in their relationship.
- It is okay to set rules on dating but do so while considering your teen’s opinion. Have a discussion with the teen to reach a consensus.
If pregnancy is discovered, then act promptly. You may discuss the possible options and resources to avoid the continuation of pregnancy as per doctors’ recommendations.
If your teen decides to continue the pregnancy, then the teen should take the following steps to reduce the risks.
- Ensure regular prenatal care as soon as possible to reduce the health risks and complications of teen pregnancy and childbirth
- Take prenatal vitamin and mineral supplements to avoid congenital malformations and other complications
- Avoid alcohol, drugs, or tobacco use
- Do walking or other exercises suggested by the doctor
Adolescent or teenage pregnancy is a complex situation that can put the teen and their family under intense social and emotional pressure. Besides, it can pose health risks for the teen and her baby. Thus, families should provide ample support and guidance to pregnant teens. Additionally, parents should educate their children about their reproductive health and underage pregnancies from a young age to help prevent teen pregnancy. Yet, if a teen gets pregnant, seek prompt medical guidance to make an informed decision to continue or discontinue the pregnancy.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What are the reasons for teenage pregnancy?
The causes of teenage pregnancy include (7):
- Less information about reproductive health and rights
- Sexual violence against vulnerable teenagers
- Family or community pressure for early marriage and lack of access to contraception
- Lack of proper education due to discontinuation of school
2. Who is more at risk of teenage pregnancy?
Risk factors for teenage pregnancy may include (8):
- Low maternal education level
- Having a mother who gave birth in her teens
- Having a single parent
- Staying in a household where conflicts are frequent
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Low self-esteem
- A teen’s race and ethnicity
2. What are some common signs of pregnancy?; The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
3. What Are Some of the Complications of Teenage Pregnancy?; Pediatric Education
4. Risks of Teen Pregnancy; Nationwide Children’s Hospital
5. Tips for parents to help their children avoid teen pregnancy; University of Delaware
6. Help Pregnant Teens Know Their Options: AAP Policy Explained; Healthy children; The American Academy of Pediatrics
7. Teenage Pregnancy; Plan International
8. Risk and Protective Factors; Youth.GOV