Just the words teenager and pregnancy sends shivers down most parents’ spines!
They are not usually synonymous with each other, so an unwanted teenage pregnancy is something that isn’t discussed very often because it’s seen as taboo.
However, the fact is, teenage pregnancies are a reality. While rates of unplanned teenage pregnancies have declined since 1990, in the United States, there are 750,000 every year, despite parents trying hard to guide their teens to avoid them.
So what can you do to make sure your adolescent teenager doesn’t get herself pregnant and what if it does happen – how should you handle it?
Signs Of Teenage Pregnancy
Let’s look at the signs of teenage pregnancy first. A pregnancy, at any age, is a huge upheaval and many teens are so shocked and distressed by it, that they go to great lengths to hide it from their peers, parents and other adults.
Unfortunately, the results can be catastrophic because in many cases, pregnancies become too advanced for other options than to give birth to be considered.
So if you know your teen is sexually active (and even if you don’t) you need to look for the signs but bear in mind that to be sure, you need to get your daughter to take a pregnancy test.
- Light or missed periods. While many teenagers do have irregular periods to begin with, it’s wise to keep an eye on her periods. If your daughter hasn’t started her periods, it’s also a good idea to get an appointment with your doctor because there could still be a risk and not starting periods could even be a sign of pregnancy.
- Pregnancy results in female body changes so check your daughter’s body for signs such as breast swelling, darkened nipples and see if she complains of swollen breasts. Tender breasts are also a sign of pre-menstruation but don’t dismiss it as such if you have concerns.
- Tiredness is another sign. Early pregnancy can bring on enormous exhaustion.
- Nausea. Morning sickness can appear as early as week 6 and continue throughout pregnancy. Keep an eye out for vomiting or queasiness.
- Sudden weight gain is a clue because pregnancy increases weight. If your daughter starts to change her clothing for larger, baggier styles, you might want to question it.
- A change in her performance at school could also be a sign that she is concerned about something or stressed.
- Mood shifts are another sign of pregnancy, although this can be difficult to determine as teenagers go through moody periods due to hormonal changes.
- Other signs include regular headaches, food cravings and backaches.
Don’t feel you can’t question your daughter. It’s wise to sit down with her and ask her gently if there is a situation in her life she wants to discuss with you.
It’s a good idea to be open to discussion and always be approachable. Put up a brick wall, scream and shout and you will drive your daughter away from you, create barriers that are hard to knock down and place even more stress on your daughter’s shoulders.
If Your Daughter Is Pregnant
You may well have supplied her with every book on the planet, had umpteen conversations about the reason why being careful is so important, told her that avoiding sex is best if possible and if not, to use proper protection.
Hell, you might even have bought that protection but the fact is, if she’s pregnant, she’s pregnant. It’s about dealing with the consequences of the situation you have now rather than crying over spilt milk!
The most important thing is to work out what the options are. If your teenager is a young woman in a steady relationship with someone, and she and he are in their late teens, perhaps you might even consider them keeping the baby.
However, if your teen is in her early teens, this might be completely out of the question and therefore it’s wise to look at the options available.
While you might be absolutely furious (and you do have every right to be, you’re frustrated, angry and worried, your teen is still very much a child and your child!), you need to consider her feelings too.
It’s easy to lose yourself in your own angst but try and take a step back. Attacking your teen will not help the situation and will definitely make it harder to deal with.
So What Should You Do?
One of the first things you need to do is to work out how pregnant your teenager is. If it is very early, you have more options than a teenager who is at 22 weeks + and has been too afraid to tell you their condition.
If your teen is unsure about the pregnancy stage, you must get your teen to a medical professional as soon as possible and work out the dates.
Even if your teen is 100% sure of the date of conception, you still should visit a doctor to make sure everything is as it should be. You don’t want an ectopic pregnancy which could put your child in danger.
Some pregnancies are phantom pregnancies and don’t even exist – so first things first, be absolutely sure!
This pregnancy calculator might help.
What Are Her Choices?
Unfortunately, the choices open to your daughter are limited. I should say that if there is a partner involved this very much applies to him too. While he is not carrying the child, if he’s around, he should take responsibility:
- Giving up the baby for adoption/foster care
- Keeping the baby
Of course, every single choice above comes with its own list of what if’s? They also come with anxiety and stress. It is never going to be an easy time and there will be psychological impact too. It’s a good idea to consider pregnancy counseling because termination is extremely upsetting, even if you and your teen definitely don’t want a baby.
We know from statistics that a quarter of teenage pregnancies in the USA end in termination. Three in four of these pregnancies are unintended and so many teenagers choose the abortion route for many reasons, the concern that a baby will hinder their education, their financial goals and their aspirations.
They also choose abortion because they feel unready for parenthood. There are other factors to take into account, age, religious belief, personal belief, family and finances. Also the stage of pregnancy matters especially if your teen is considering abortion.
Different states have different rules, some allow abortions beyond 22 weeks and others won’t allow them past week 13 +6. You need to know where you stand in your state.
Additionally, some states require both parents’ consent for termination, for under 18’s a parent must accompany them and many have their own different stipulations. However, if your state does not allow abortion, you can travel to another state (as long as you respect their abortion criteria).
There are psychological as well as physical effects that will more than likely need to be dealt with if you choose this route. One of the first feelings is usually relief which is completely understandable but it’s weeks later when other feelings flood in, such as regret, distress, guilt and these can result in sleep disturbance, nervous disorder and anxiety.
This is another reason why pregnancy counseling (pre and post abortion) is so highly recommended. You must be prepared for all of the above and be gentle with your teenage daughter.
It’s likely she will be distraught and will need to lean on you heavily for support and plenty of love and affection. Whatever your views about teenage pregnancy, she is your daughter and needs you. Don’t lose sight of that.
Giving up a baby for adoption or fostering is also enormously traumatic; your daughter will carry that baby for 9 months, give birth to it and then watch it disappear forever. There will be guilt, regret and your daughter will wonder for the rest of her life about that child (as will you).
Keeping The Baby
If your teen decides she wants to keep the baby she needs to think about family support. If you don’t want to support her, that’s of course up to you but she will be very alone. Some parents simply don’t want another child around, but, bear in mind that your anger and frustration will eventually dissipate and you want to be sure you’ve made the right decision for your whole family.
A very young teen will struggle to bring up a baby alone; again, pregnancy counseling will help point out the pitfalls. While I’d love to advise in these situations, it’s too delicate unfortunately but there’s no doubt it’s a huge struggle to have an extra baby if you don’t want one, can’t afford one and will resent it.
Your daughter will also need to consider housing if she is to move out of home, the emotional upheaval and the role the baby’s father (and his family) wants, if any. She also needs to really question whether she believes she is capable of caring for a baby because as you know, it brings enormous responsibility. Can your teen take care of herself? If not, it won’t work.
Keeping a baby no doubt brings its own amount of stress and there’s also the financial burden to take into consideration, not to mention school, college and beyond.
If your daughter is to continue her education, bringing up baby falls onto other family members’ shoulders. Mainly you, if you’re to be the grandma. Your life will change dramatically, as will your daughter’s and you will need to have very serious conversations about this. The problem is time is against you so decisions need to be made very quickly, especially if the pregnancy is advanced (over 12 weeks).
By the same token, if the partner is in the picture (whether as a partner or not) they must be made aware of any decision making too as they and their family may well want to be involved.
Again, pregnancy counseling can help. Speaking to someone who is outside of the family does not have the same emotional involvement, therefore can point out all the difficulties your daughter might face with every different choice.
Be prepared for lots of chopping and changing of mind. It is a big decision – even if you, the parent, think it is an obvious choice, your teen must feel comfortable with the outcome, there’s no easy option. However, time is of the essence.
The Effects & Consequences Of Teenage Pregnancy
It’s important to also consider the effects of teenage pregnancy, both mental and physical.
A new baby means lack of sleep, huge emotional and financial responsibility. As mentioned, there’s also childcare to take into consideration, a change is social life because your teen will no longer be able to spend time with her friends at the drop of a hat and obviously, a new baby impacts on education.
All of the above creates a huge amount of stress for a teen mom. Many young moms cannot look after themselves properly, let alone look after a baby. That’s not to say that some teen moms take on a new baby with good intentions and many succeed in bringing up a baby well, however, there is a huge need for support from others, family and friends.
Without that support, a teenager with a baby will struggle. If you are the parent of a pregnant teenager who wants to keep their baby, you need to consider this and ask yourself if you are ready for a new baby to become part of your family. Many parents just aren’t equipped or don’t want to be involved in childcare again.
As well as the practicalities, there are the mental effects of teenage pregnancy. A study in Canada in 2014 on teenage moms age between 15 and 19 showed they suffered postpartum depression twice as highly than women age 25+. It’s also been reported that teenage mothers experience depression more than other moms. .
The Morning After Pill/Plan B
If caught early enough, there is emergency contraception to consider, which is up to 89% effective in preventing pregnancy. However, you need to know that your daughter has had unprotected sex which is why an open and approachable relationship always helps.
It’s important to educate your daughter about contraception but if your daughter has had unprotected sex, then she needs to know there is an option, although the Morning After Pill is never an option to rely on.
The Morning After Pill prevents pregnancy up to 5 days after unprotected sex but the longer your daughter leaves it, the greater the risk of pregnancy. They work by blocking the hormones needed to conceive successfully.
The side effects are extreme nausea which your daughter needs to know about. Your daughter can get emergency contraception without ID in the USA.
If your teen is continuing with pregnancy, whether she is keeping the baby or giving it up for adoption, she will need to look after herself during pregnancy. She cannot smoke, drink or take drugs and she needs to know this. Any of those substances can cause harm to a developing foetus, premature birth, brain development, major organ development, breathing problems and even crib death.
She should also eat healthily and take folic acid because it helps to prevent neural defects. Remember, this pregnancy will be life-changing. Support your teen as best you can.
How To Prevent Teenage Pregnancy
Of course, prevention is always better than cure! So how can you go about making sure your teenager doesn’t get pregnant? There’s no failsafe method but the following tips will help:
- Don’t shy away from discussing sex with your daughter. It’s important she understands what it is all about and what the results are if no protection is used. Point out that sex is best between consenting adults who love each other and not to be taken lightly.
- Discuss birth control and safe sex especially if she has a boyfriend. It is better to be safe than sorry even if you are completely against teenage sex. Unfortunately, it is a reality nowadays, even in young teens. If you cannot bring yourself to discuss it then it’s important to leave leaflets with her or take her to the doctor and let her have a private consultation where she can talk to someone without you being in the room.
- If she is sexually active, it is probably wise to put her on the contraceptive pill although you would be best advised to make sure she takes it daily.
- Don’t be scared to discuss what would happen if she got pregnant. By pointing out the pitfalls and challenges you will show her how difficult life would be.
- Try and encourage abstinence as the best decision. Difficult though it is, if you can persuade her to wait until she is older to have sex, you will go a long way to avoiding teenage pregnancy.
- Encourage her to care for a baby – the more she sees how difficult it is, the more she learns about the risks associated with unprotected sex!
- Buy her literature on the subject, this is a good guide, Your Doctor, Your Teenager and Contraception by Fatu Forna.
Finally, as a teenager, your daughter needs to feel that her parents do support her decision but if you feel your daughter is too young to make an informed decision, you have every right to point out all the pitfalls and advise her.
The final decision should be the best possible outcome for your teen and her future. She needs to really consider the disadvantages to having a baby so young.