The teen birth rate has been steadily falling for years, but it still remains the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized countries. About 85% of these pregnancies are unplanned, which in any population can increase the risk for problems. The biggest risk for teen mothers is delaying prenatal care or worse, 7.2% received no care at all.The reason for lack of prenatal care is usually delayed pregnancy testing, denial or even fear of telling others about the pregnancy. Most states have a health department or university clinic where prenatal care is free or low cost and patient confidentiality is very important, meaning no one can tell the teen mother's family. Because the body of a teen is still growing she will need more nutritional support to meet both her needs and that of her baby. Nutritional counseling can be a large portion of prenatal care, usually done by a doctor or a midwife, sometimes a nutritionist. This counseling will usually include information about prenatal vitamins, folic acid, and the dos and don'ts of eating and drinking. Lack of proper nutrition can lead to problems like anemia (low iron), low weight gain, etc. Another problem facing teen mothers is the use of drugs and alcohol, including cigarette smoking. No amount of any of these substances is safe for use in pregnancy. In fact, their use can complicate pregnancy even further increasing the likelihood of premature birth and other complications. Premature birth and low birth weight create a wealth of their own problems, including brain damage, physical disabilities and more. The potentially lengthy hospital stay and increased risk of health problems for these babies leads to more stress on the teen mother. While facing the grim realities of teen pregnancy is not pleasant, this is not the picture that has to be painted. Teen mothers are perfectly capable of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. With the proper nutrition, early prenatal care and good screening for potential problems the majority of these potential problems will not come to light. While some tend to think that you can't teach a teen mother anything about her body or baby, it's really a ridiculous notion. Many of the teen mothers who take active roles in their care do go on to have healthy babies, despite the other hardships that they will face in their lives. Support from the families and communities is a must for the young, new family to be successful.
Many teens worry about what their families will say when they find out that they are pregnant. So they avoid telling their parents or someone else who might be able to help them find support. This delays their prenatal care, making the pregnancy even more risky for themselves and their baby.
There are many programs in place to help teen parents learn parenting skills, complete their education, particularly high school, and find meaningful employment or further training and education with the idea of obtaining a better job. The truth is a teen parent will need more support and perhaps time to complete these tasks. Having good childcare that empowers the teen parent rather than forces the teen to abdicate to the paid care provider is a must.
There is also the worry that after one pregnancy, another may follow. Discussing teen pregnancy can be really important, particularly in terms of subsequent pregnancies. That said, being open and accepting of teens who talk to you in the most important thing you can do.
Kost K and Henshaw S, U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions, 2008: State Trends by Age, Race and Ethnicity, 2013, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/USTPtrendsState08.pdf, accessed August 23, 2013. Teenage Pregnancy. March of Dimes. November 2009.