If you're a pregnant teen, you're not alone. About half a million
adolescents give birth each year. Most teens who have babies didn't
plan on becoming pregnant. You may have been surprised when you
found out or even hoped it wasn't true. You may have been terrified
to tell your parents. You may have worried how this might affect
your relationships with your family, friends, and the baby's father.
Sharing the news of your pregnancy can be one of the most difficult
conversations to have.
Whether you feel confused, worried, scared, or excited, you'll
want to know how your life will change, what you can do to have
a healthy baby, and what it takes to become a good parent.
The most important thing you can do is to take good care of yourself
so that you and your baby will be healthy. Girls who get the proper
care and make the right choices have a very good chance of having
If you are pregnant, you need to see a doctor as soon as possible
to begin getting prenatal care (medical care during pregnancy).
The sooner you start to get medical care, the better your chances
that you and your baby will be healthy.
If you can't afford to go to a doctor or clinic for prenatal care,
there are social service organizations that can help you. Ask your
parent, school counselor, or another trusted adult to help you locate
resources in your community.
During your first visit, your doctor will ask you lots of questions
including the date of your last period. This is so he or she can
estimate how long you have been pregnant and your due date. Doctors
measure pregnancies in weeks. It's important to remember that your
due date is only an estimate: Most babies are born between 38 and
42 weeks after the first day of a woman's last menstrual period,
or 36 to 38 weeks after conception (when the sperm fertilizes the
egg). Only a small percentage of women actually deliver exactly
on their due dates.
A pregnancy is divided into three phases, or trimesters. The first
trimester is from conception to the end of week 13. The second trimester
is from week 14 to the end of week 26. The third trimester is from
week 27 to the end of the pregnancy.
The doctor will examine you and perform a pelvic exam. He or she
will also perform blood tests, a urine test, and tests for sexually
transmitted diseases (STDs), including a test for HIV, which is
on the rise in teens. (Some STDs can cause serious medical problems
in newborns, so it's important to get treatment to protect the baby.)
The doctor will explain the types of physical and emotional changes
you can expect during pregnancy. He or she will also teach you to
how to recognize the signs of possible problems during pregnancy
(called complications). This is especially important because teens
are more at risk for certain complications such as anemia, high
blood pressure, miscarriage, and delivering a baby earlier than
usual (called premature delivery).
Your doctor will want you to start taking prenatal vitamins that
contain the minerals folic acid, calcium, and iron as soon as possible.
The vitamins may be prescribed by the doctor, or he or she may recommend
a brand that you can buy over the counter. These vitamins and minerals
help ensure the baby's and mother's health as well as prevent some
types of birth defects.
Ideally, you should see your doctor once each month for the first
28 to 30 weeks of your pregnancy, then every 2 to 3 weeks until
36 weeks, then once a week until you deliver the baby. If you have
a medical condition such as diabetes that needs careful monitoring
during your pregnancy, your doctor will probably want to see you
During visits, your doctor will check your weight, blood pressure,
and urine, and will measure your abdomen to keep track of the baby's
growth. Once the baby's heartbeat can be heard with a special device,
the doctor will listen for it at each visit. Your doctor will probably
also send you for some other tests during the pregnancy, such as
an ultrasound, to make sure that everything is OK with your baby.
One part of prenatal care is attending classes where expectant
mothers can learn about having a healthy pregnancy and delivery
and the basics of caring for a new baby. These classes may be offered
at hospitals, medical centers, schools, and colleges in your area.
It can be difficult for adults to talk to their doctors about their
bodies and even more difficult for teens to do so. Your doctor is
there to help you stay healthy during pregnancy and have a healthy
baby - and there's probably not much he or she hasn't heard from
expectant mothers! So don't be afraid to ask questions. Think of
your doctor both as a resource and a friend who you can confide
in about what's happening to you. And always be honest when your
doctor asks questions about issues that could affect your baby's
Changes to Expect in Your Body
Pregnancy causes lots of physical changes in the body. Here are
some common ones:
An increase in breast size is one of the first signs of pregnancy,
and the breasts may continue to grow throughout the pregnancy. You
may go up several bra sizes during the course of your pregnancy.
Don't be surprised if people tell you your skin is "glowing"
when you are pregnant - pregnancy causes an increase in blood volume,
which can make your cheeks a little pinker than usual. And hormonal
changes increase oil gland secretion, which can give your skin a
shinier appearance. Acne is also common during pregnancy for the
Other skin changes caused by pregnancy hormones may include brownish
or yellowish patches on the face called chloasma and a dark line
on the midline of the lower abdomen, known as the linea nigra.
Also, moles or freckles that you had prior to pregnancy may become
bigger and darker. Even the areola, the area around the nipples,
becomes darker. Stretch marks are thin pink or purplish lines that
can appear on your abdomen, breasts, or thighs.
Except for the darkening of the areola, which is usually permanent,
these skin changes will usually disappear after you give birth.
It's very common to have mood swings during pregnancy. Some girls
may also experience depression during pregnancy or after delivery.
If you have symptoms of depression such as sadness, changes in sleep
patterns, or bad feelings about yourself or your life for more than
2 weeks, tell your doctor so he or she can help you to get treatment.
Pregnancy can cause some uncomfortable side effects. These include
nausea and vomiting, especially early in the pregnancy; leg swelling;
varicose veins in the legs and the area around the vaginal opening;
hemorrhoids; heartburn and constipation; backache; fatigue; and
sleep loss. If you experience one or more of these side effects,
keep in mind that you're not alone! Ask your doctor for advice on
how to deal with these common problems.
Things to Avoid
Smoking, drinking, and taking drugs when you are pregnant put you
and your baby at risk for a number of serious problems.
Doctors now feel that it's not safe to drink any amount of alcohol
when you are pregnant. Drinking can harm a developing fetus, putting
a baby at risk for birth defects and mental problems.
The risks of smoking during pregnancy include stillbirths (when
a baby dies while inside the mother), low birth weight (which increases
a baby's risk for health problems), prematurity (when babies are
born earlier than 37 weeks), and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
SIDS is the sudden, unexplained death of an infant who is younger
than 1 year old.
Using illegal drugs such as cocaine or marijuana during pregnancy
can cause miscarriage, prematurity, and other medical problems.
Babies can also be born addicted to certain drugs.
Ask your doctor for help if you are having trouble quitting smoking,
drinking, or drugs. Check with your doctor before taking any medication
while you are pregnant, including over-the-counter medications,
herbal remedies and supplements, and vitamins.
Talk to your doctor about sex during pregnancy. If you are sexually
active while you are pregnant, you must use a condom to help prevent
getting an STD. Some STDs can cause blindness, pneumonia, or meningitis
in newborns, so it's important to protect yourself and your baby.
Taking Care of Yourself During Pregnancy
Many girls worry about how their bodies look and are afraid to gain
weight during pregnancy. But now that you are eating for two, this
is not a good time to cut calories or go on a diet. Don't try to
hide your pregnancy by dieting - both you and your baby need certain
nutrients to grow properly. Eating a variety of healthy foods, drinking
plenty of water, and cutting back on high-fat junk foods will help
you and your developing baby to be healthy.
Doctors generally recommend adding about 250 calories a day to
your diet to provide adequate nourishment for the developing fetus.
Depending on your prepregnancy weight, you should gain about 25
to 35 pounds during pregnancy, most of this during the last 6 months.
Your doctor will advise you about this based on your individual
Eating additional fiber - 20 to 30 grams a day - and drinking plenty
of water can help to prevent common problems such as constipation.
Good sources of fiber are fresh fruits and vegetables and whole-grain
breads, cereals, or muffins.
Exercising during pregnancy is good for you as long as you choose
appropriate activities. Doctors generally recommend low-impact activities
such as walking, swimming, and yoga. Contact sports and high-impact
aerobic activities that pose a greater risk of injury should generally
be avoided. Also, working at a job that involves heavy lifting is
not recommended for women during the last trimester of pregnancy.
Talk to your doctor if you have questions about whether particular
types of exercise are safe for you and your baby.
It's important to get plenty of rest while you are pregnant. Early
in your pregnancy, try to get into the habit of sleeping on your
side. Lying on your side with your knees bent is likely to be the
most comfortable position as your pregnancy progresses. Also, it
makes your heart's job easier because it keeps the baby's weight
from applying pressure to the large vein that carries blood back
to the heart from your feet and legs.
Some doctors specifically recommend that girls who are pregnant
sleep on the left side. Because your liver is on the right side
of your abdomen, lying on your left side helps keep the uterus off
that large organ. Ask what your doctor recommends - in most cases,
lying on either side should do the trick and help take some pressure
off your back.
Stress can interfere with sleep. Maybe you're worried about your
baby's health, about delivery, or about what your new role as a
parent will be like. All of these feelings are normal, but they
may keep you up at night. Talk to your doctor if you are having
problems sleeping during your pregnancy.
It's common for pregnant teens to feel a range of emotions, such
as fear, anger, guilt, and sadness. It may take a while to adjust
to the fact that you're going to have a baby. It's a huge change,
and it's natural for pregnant teens to wonder whether they're ready
to handle the responsibilities that come with being a parent.
How a girl feels often depends on how much support she has from
the baby's father, from her family (and the baby's father's family),
and from friends. Each girl's situation is different. Depending
on your situation, you may need to seek more support from people
outside your family. It's important to talk to the people who can
support and guide you and help you share and sort through your feelings.
Your school counselor or nurse can refer you to resources in your
community that can help.
School and the Future
Some girls plan to raise their babies themselves. Sometimes grandparents
or other family members help. Some girls decide to give their babies
up for adoption. It takes a great deal of courage and concern for
the baby to make these difficult decisions.
Girls who complete high school are more likely to have good jobs
and enjoy more success in their lives. If possible, finish high
school now rather than trying to return later. Ask your school counselor
or an adult you trust for information about programs and classes
in your community for pregnant teens.
Some communities have support groups especially for teen parents.
Some high schools have child-care centers on campus. Perhaps a family
member or friend can care for your baby while you're in school.
Life takes unexpected turns. These changes often bring opportunities
to learn and grow and develop new strengths. You can stay informed
by reading books, attending classes, or checking out reputable websites
on child raising. Keep communications open in your own family and
talk to your parents about this new phase in your life. Your baby's
doctor, your parents, family members, or other adults can all help
guide you while you are pregnant and when you become a parent.