Babies born in the U.S. to teenage mothers are at risk for long-term problems in many major areas of life, including school failure, poverty, and physical or mental illness. The teenage mothers themselves are also at risk for these problems.

Teenage pregnancy is usually a crisis for the pregnant girl and her family. Common reactions include anger, guilt, and denial. If the father is young and present, similar problems can occur in his family.

Adolescents who become pregnant may not seek proper medical care during their pregnancy, leading to an increased risk for medical complications. 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.

All pregnant teenagers should have medical care beginning early in their pregnancy. There may be times when the pregnant teenager’s emotional reactions and mental state will require referral to a qualified mental health professional.

Pregnant teens can have many different emotional reactions, some may not want their babies–or may want them in idealized and confused ways. A teenager may view the creation of a child as an achievement and not recognize the serious responsibilities. Or she may want a baby to have someone to love, but not recognize the quality of care the baby needs. Often, adolescents do not anticipate that their adorable baby can also be demanding and sometimes irritating. Some teenagers become overwhelmed by guilt, anxiety, and fears about the future. Depression is also common among pregnant teens.

Adult parents can help prevent teenage pregnancy by providing guidance to their children about sexuality and the risks and responsibilities of intimate relationships and pregnancy. Babies born to teenagers are at risk for neglect and abuse because their young mothers are uncertain about their roles and may be frustrated by the constant demands of caretaking. Many teenage girls are forced to drop out of school to have their babies. 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 unwanted pregnancy.

If pregnancy occurs, teenagers and their families deserve honest and sensitive counseling about options available to them, ranging from abortion to 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 it up for adoption.


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Copyright © 1997 by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

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