Pregnant teens can experience a number of different types of health risk, some of which include risks to the mother alone, some to her unborn child, and some to both of them. Some health risks for pregnant teens are due specifically to the mother’s age, and of course, this cannot be changed. However, other health risks to pregnant teens are due to behaviors that are choices, and these have the potential to be addressed, once it’s clear to the pregnant teen that the particular behavior poses a risk to herself and/or her baby, or both.
The first risk for pregnant teens, which can affect both the mother and her baby, is not recognizing that she is pregnant. A woman of any age who is pregnant and unaware of it is likely not to get the nutrition she needs to sustain both herself and her unborn child. She will not take steps to get prenatal care, which would provide her with the special vitamins to support her pregnancy, and will likely not have received any preconception counseling and care. Lack of prenatal care may result in complications of pregnancy going untreated.
In addition, whereas a woman of any age who knows she is pregnant will either receive advice to or know to avoid certain risks, which include anesthesia, even over-the-counter drugs, alcohol (which an underage teen might legitimately consume during a church or synagogue service, for example), and cigarettes, a pregnant teen who has not realized she is pregnant or doesn’t know they’re important will not take these steps. Teens are more likely than women over 25 to smoke when they’re pregnant, and this raises the chances of complications involving the placenta.
Another risk for pregnant teens is high blood pressure, or pregnancy-induced hypertension. Related is the risk of preeclampsia, in which hypertension, edema (swelling) and protein in the urine are combined. Both are serious for both mother and child and require medical attention.
Teens who are pregnant are more likely than older women to become depressed, to have unrealistic expectations about life with a baby that are shattered when the baby is born, and may feel anxiety, guilt, or fear about the pregnancy and the future. Teens who are adversely affected psychologically and emotionally should receive assistance from a mental health professional who specializes in working with teens.
Teens are also more likely than older women to go into labor prematurely and—related to this—to have babies with low birthweights of less that 5.5 pounds. In addition to being small because they haven’t had the time to grow in the womb that a full-term baby has, premature babies (those delivered before 37 weeks), may have other problems with his or her vision, digestions, respiratory system, or have cognitive issues.
Both teens and women with unplanned pregnancies are more likely than other women to have post-partum depression, and this can make it more difficult for a new teen mother to take care of her infant.