FFFChildren Having Children

No. 31; Updated July 2017

Teenage pregnancy can be a crisis for the pregnant girl and her family. Common reactions include anger, guilt, and denial. If the father is young and involved, similar reactions can occur in his family. Babies born in the U.S. to teenage mothers are at risk for long-term problems in many major areas of life, including dropping out of school, health problems, incarceration, becoming teenage parents themselves, and underemployment. The teenage mothers themselves are also at risk for these problems.

All pregnant teenagers should have medical care beginning early in their pregnancy. Since approximately three quarters of teenage pregnancies are not planned, adolescents who become pregnant may not seek proper medical care during their pregnancy. This can lead to an increased risk for medical problems in the teen mother and her developing fetus. Pregnant teenagers require special understanding, medical care, and education -particularly about nutrition, infections, substance abuse, and complications of pregnancy. They also need to learn that using tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs can damage the developing fetus.

Pregnant teens can have many different emotional reactions:

  • some may not want their babies
  • others may view the creation of a child as an achievement and not recognize the serious responsibilities
  • some may keep a child to please another family member
  • some may want a baby to have someone to love but not understand the amount of care the baby needs
  • some may be depressed before getting pregnant or may develop depression
  • many do not realize that their adorable baby can also be demanding and sometimes irritating
  • some become overwhelmed by guilt, anxiety, and fears about the future

Raising a new baby is challenging for any parent. It can be especially difficult for young mothers who may be uncertain about their roles and responsibilities and may be frustrated by the constant demands of caretaking. Because of this, their babies are at risk for neglect and abuse.

Some teenage girls drop out of school to have their babies and do not return. In this way, pregnant teens lose the opportunity to learn skills necessary for employment and self-survival as adults. School classes in family life and sexual education, as well as clinics providing reproductive information and birth control to young people, can also help to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.

Parents of teenagers can help prevent teenage pregnancy or future pregnancy through open communication and by providing guidance to their children about sexuality, contraception, and the risks and responsibilities of sexual relationships and pregnancy. If pregnancy occurs, teenagers and their families deserve honest and sensitive counseling about options available to them, including abortion and adoption. Special support systems, including consultation with a child and adolescent psychiatrist when needed, should be available to help the teenager throughout the pregnancy, the birth, and the decision about whether to keep the infant or give him or her up for adoption. There may be times when the pregnant teenager's emotional reactions and mental state will require referral to a qualified mental health professional.