For many people who are concerned about this subject, the most upsetting thing about teen pregnancy is that it appears to be so easily preventable. In an ideal world every pregnancy would be a planned one, and every expectant mother would be fully prepared for the challenges to come—but that could only be a world in which teenagers never behaved impulsively and accidents never happened.
According to recent studies, there is good and bad news about teen pregnancy in the United States. The good news is that teen pregnancy rates are falling nationwide. Live births among 15- to 19-year-old girls fell to 329,797 in 2011, a record low, and down nearly 20% from only two years before that. The bad news is that the US still leads the industrialized world in teen pregnancies. Also, while teen pregnancy rates have fallen in all states and among all ethnic groups, a disparity still exists between whites and some minority groups.
Your Options if You’re Pregnant
Regardless of your age, if you’re pregnant, you have only three options to choose from:
- Keep the baby
- Give the baby up for adoption
- Have an abortion
If you keep the baby, you must understand that you are accepting an enormous responsibility, and you will need to realistically assess your financial condition, your health, and the difficulties you will face in achieving any of your life’s goals—which must now be considered secondary in importance.
If you give the baby up for adoption, you will need to be prepared for the way you will feel after this decision has been made. It will not be easy, and there will be moments, perhaps throughout your life, when you will feel pangs of regret. This will also be the case if you elect to have an abortion. Abortion is a safe medical procedure, and there is absolutely no evidence that it does long-term harm to a woman’s mental health … but it is not easy. Regardless of what you decide, your decision must not be made lightly.
Health Considerations Related to Teen Pregnancy
While pregnant teenagers face most of the same health considerations and risks as older women, there are differences. Statistically, young girls are less likely to get adequate prenatal care, either due to poverty or because they hide their pregnancies from their parents until they begin to show. This problem is compounded by the fact that teenaged girls’ bodies are still developing. The most common complications resulting from this are anemia during pregnancy and preterm labor.
Other health risks associated with teen pregnancy include:
- Low birth weight: The risk for this is nearly 12 percent for mothers aged 15 and under, but only about 8 percent for adult women.
- Problems caused by inadequate nutrition during pregnancy
- Postpartum depression; Many women suffer from this condition, but teenagers are especially vulnerable.
Babies born to teen mothers are also more likely to die within the first year—roughly 16 of every 1,000 babies born to mothers under the age of 15 die within a year. Among women of all ages, the figure is less than 7 out of every 1,000.
On average, teen mothers tend to complete their educations about two years behind their peers, if they graduate at all. Many of them face poverty, and they are statistically more likely to have additional children than women who wait until they have reached a stable point in their adult lives to begin having children—in fact, 25 percent of mothers under the age of 18 have another child within two years after having the first. Worse yet, according to the March of Dimes, more than 75 percent of unwed teen mothers go on welfare within five years of the birth of their first child. This is hardly surprising when one considers the scarce employment opportunities available to an uneducated, young, single mother.
Proper Care and Nutrition for Teen Pregnancy
It is important for any woman to see an ob-gyn during pregnancy. It is also vital for the mom-to-be to eat properly in order to meet her own nutritional needs as well as the baby’s. If she is young enough that her bones are still growing, it will be important for her to take extra steps to ensure that she gets enough calcium and phosphorus; drinking plenty of milk should take care of that. Folic acid—found in abundance in leafy greens, nuts, eggs, and seafood—is important for any pregnant woman, but a pregnant teen will also need to make sure she gets enough iron and protein. Meat, of course, is the best source of complete protein, and leafy green vegetables such as spinach or kale are good sources of iron.
It should go without saying that a pregnant teen should avoid cigarettes and alcohol. It is also important for her to get a little exercise each day.