Teenagers and high risk pregnancy are terms commonly heard together since many health care providers consider pregnancy in women 19 years of age and under as an automatic high risk pregnancy.
Pregnancy Complications for Teens
Teen pregnancy rates have gone down in recent years. Still, the most recent Guttmacher Institute statistics show that around 750,000 women aged 15-19 become pregnant yearly. Pregnancy in this population can have more complications -- some of which could be managed through prenatal care.
One major high risk pregnancy factor related to both mother and baby is a lack of prenatal care. Already teens are considered high risk, yet many receive less prenatal care than mothers who become pregnant at an older age. Some teens who do receive prenatal care start visiting their health care provider much later into a pregnancy then what is considered safe.
Appropriate prenatal care can decrease the risks of some of the other problems that can be associated with teen pregnancy; the health care provider can also screen for problems with the baby and keep track of the baby's growth in utero.
Many of the specific high risk pregnancy factors related to teens can be divided into risks to the mother and risks to the baby.
High Risk Pregnancy Issues Related to the Teen Mother
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) notes that pregnant teens are at a higher risk for hypertension in pregnancy than older mothers. Teen mothers are also at higher risk of developing preeclampsia which can be dangerous to both mother and baby. Regular prenatal care can help manage any hypertension that may develop.
A significant number of all women develop anemia during pregnancy; however, low iron in the blood is very common among pregnant teens. This may be partly due to poor eating habits among teens. Taking a prenatal vitamin may help; however, your health care provider would be able to keep track of iron levels during the pregnancy.
Teenagers may not gain an adequate amount of weight during pregnancy which can increase the risk of a low-weight baby. Teenagers often think that it is a good idea not to gain much weight; they may also be trying to disguise the pregnancy from family and friends. A recent study also suggested that teen moms may be at higher risk of becoming obese later in life; more research needs to be done to fully understand these findings.
Eating a healthy diet is important for the baby's development; your health care provider can discuss the appropriate amount of weight gain needed for a specific teen.
Preterm Labor and Birth
Teen moms are at a higher risk for preterm labor and birth. Preterm delivery is associated with pregnancy complications like pregnancy-induced hypertension or anemia; lack of prenatal care may also increase the risk of preterm delivery. All of these factors are common in teen pregnancy and demonstrate the importance of prenatal care.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Teens who continue to have sex during pregnancy may be exposed to sexually transmitted diseases -- especially if they are not using condoms because they see little need to (because they are already pregnant). However, an infection can complicate the pregnancy and affect the baby as well. For example, a woman can get infected with the HIV virus during pregnancy and may pass that onto the baby.
Teens may be at higher risk of developing postpartum depression after giving birth. Teens may feel alone and have no one to talk to about their situation. It is important to talk to a health care provider about these type of feelings; they can make it more difficult to care for an infant.
High Risk Pregnancy Issues Related to the Baby
Low Birth Weight
Babies born to teen moms are at higher risk of having a low birth weight. Low weight babies weigh less than 5.5 pounds at birth. This situation can lead to other problems related to development such as underdeveloped organs or an inability to maintain body temperature. Low birth weight babies are also at higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Due to several factors including hypertension or infection, babies born to teen moms do have a risk of premature birth. Preterm birth can result in underdeveloped lungs, poor vision, susceptibility to infection, and many other developmental issues. The earlier the baby is born, the more problems he/she may have and the longer they may have to remain in the hospital. These babies can have long-term health issues as well.
Resources & Support
Many social workers and health care providers who work with youth firsthand would relate that there is a huge difference between a teen pregnancy where the teen receives encouragement and support versus a teen pregnancy where no support is offered. Pregnant teens have not chosen the easiest road, but they still absolutely deserve respect and support. If you know a pregnant teen and offer support, you may be the difference between that teen having a safe pregnancy and not.
If you're the adult in a pregnant teen's life, attend her prenatal appointments with her so that you can be an advocate. If a teen is treated poorly and has no advocate, it's more likely she'll quit attending her appointments.
Help for Pregnant Teens
If you're a pregnant teen, you can help yourself and your baby by seeing a doctor or nurse-midwife as soon as you find out that you're pregnant. You should eat well and cut out any smoking or drinking. You should also have protected sex: even though you're pregnant, you can still catch a sexually transmitted disease.
If you're overwhelmed and don't know where to start, your local Planned Parenthood is a place that is often filled with caring and respectful individuals. This organization makes a point of offering facts and support to all women regardless of age or finances. You can find a Planned Parenthood near you by visiting their website.