Understand the health risks

Pregnant teens and their babies are at higher risk of health problems than are pregnant women who are older. The most common complications for pregnant teens — especially those younger than age 15 and those who don't receive prenatal care — include a low level of iron in the blood (anemia) and preterm labor. Some research suggests that pregnant teens might be more likely to develop high blood pressure as well.

Babies born to teen mothers are more likely to be born prematurely and have a low birth weight.

Promote proper prenatal care

A pregnant teen can improve her chances of having a healthy baby by taking good care of herself. If your daughter decides to continue the pregnancy, encourage her to:

  • Seek prenatal care. During pregnancy, regular prenatal visits can help your daughter's health care provider monitor your daughter's health and the baby's health.
  • Get tested for sexually transmitted infections. Sexually transmitted infections — including gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis — can increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, birth defects and other pregnancy complications. If your teen has a sexually transmitted infection, treatment is essential.
  • Eat a healthy diet. During pregnancy, your daughter will need more folic acid, calcium, iron, protein and other essential nutrients. A daily prenatal vitamin can help fill any gaps. In addition, your daughter might need extra calcium and phosphorus because her own bones are still growing.
  • Stay physically active. Regular physical activity can help ease or even prevent discomfort, boost your teen's energy level and improve her overall health. It also can help her prepare for labor and childbirth by increasing her stamina and muscle strength. Encourage your daughter to get her health care provider's OK before starting or continuing an exercise program, especially if she has an underlying medical condition.
  • Gain weight wisely. Gaining the right amount of weight can support the baby's health — and make it easier for your teen to lose the extra pounds after delivery. A weight gain of 25 to 35 pounds (about 11 to 16 kilograms) is often recommended for women who have a healthy weight before pregnancy. Pregnant teens may need to gain more weight. Encourage your daughter to work with her health care provider to determine what's right for her.
  • Avoid risky substances. Alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and other illicit drugs are off-limits during pregnancy. Even moderate alcohol use during pregnancy can harm a developing baby. Smoking increases the risk of premature birth, problems with the placenta and low birth weight — and drugs your teen takes can pass from her to her baby, sometimes with devastating effects. Even prescription and over-the-counter medications deserve caution. Remind your daughter to clear any medications or supplements with her health care provider ahead of time.
  • Take childbirth classes. These classes can help prepare your daughter for pregnancy, childbirth, breast-feeding and being a parent.

If your daughter lacks the finances or transportation needed to obtain prenatal care — or needs help continuing her education — a counselor or social worker might be able to help.

Prepare for the future

Teenage pregnancy often has a negative impact on a teen's future. Teen mothers are less likely to graduate from high school and to attend college, are more likely to live in poverty and are at risk of domestic violence. Teen fathers tend to finish fewer years of school than do older fathers. They're also less likely to earn a livable wage and hold a steady job. In addition, children of teen parents are more likely to have health and cognitive conditions and are more likely to be neglected or abused. Girls born to teen parents are more likely to experience teenage pregnancy themselves.

If your daughter decides to continue the pregnancy, address these challenges head-on. Discuss her goals for the future and how she might go about achieving them as a parent. Look for special programs available to help pregnant teens remain in school or complete course work from home. Encourage your daughter to take parenting classes and help her prepare to financially support and raise a child.

Whatever choice your daughter makes, be there for her as much as possible. Your love and support will help her deal with pregnancy and the challenges ahead.

Oct. 08, 2011 See more In-depth