A teenage pregnancy is defined as any pregnancy that occurs in a female under the age of twenty years young! Teen mamas account for 7% of all births in the US. While most of them are unplanned, this does not mean that they are necessarily dangerous or problematic. What IS dangerous and problematic, is how healthcare providers are treating teen mamas as walking ignorance and a living, breathing complication, and then how we are treating these sweet girls, when they become mamas and need support more than ever.
So let’s talk about prevention first. The best way to give a teenager truly informed consent about sex, we have to squash the concept of abstinence-preaching. This does our girls NO JUSTICE, because let’s be real, teenage hormones are surging, especially in public schools where there are “pretty/handsome” teenagers EVERYWHERE, relationships and sexuality are a status symbol, opportunities to hear about a party are abundant, and there are about a thousand ways to sneak out of your parents house. Instead, we should be discussing methods of fertility tracking, natural family planning and preventing, safe contraceptives that do not destroy their bodies, and holding young men accountable for prevention and consequences of sex, as well. YEP, I went there. I have a son and believe me, he will know about cervical mucus, temping, neem oil, and more about a woman’s fertility, and his own, it is crucial that the two that will tango, are both knowledgable, it should not solely rest on a young woman to prevent pregnancy. We need to leave an open conversation for teenagers to come and talk to us, as parents, as teachers, as advocates in the community, whether it is about STDs, infections, a pregnancy scare, rape/assault, or any other potentially “embarrassing” or “private” subject, and if we cannot have this, what else can we expect to happen but an unplanned pregnancy due to LACK OF WILLINGNESS TO EDUCATE ON OUR PART?? We are adults for goodness sake, and our babies, will not always be babies.
Next, we must address the fact that not all parents are going to be open to the above and that pregnancy is going to happen, so let’s figure out how to handle the scenario of your teenager coming home and sharing with you that she is pregnant, or that he has gotten his girlfriend pregnant. Instead of crying, shaming, yelling, grounding, expressing that their “life is over” and “what have you done” blah blah blah… why can we not meet them with compassion? They are obviously already feeling all kinds of emotions, and they do not need to carry yours; unload that baggage on someone else, not your child, that needs you to be their rock right now, more than ever. Remember, YOU as a parent, are their role model, how would you want them to react to your future grandchild? Look at that sweet teenage face, and remember when they were a baby… that is how fragile they are right now, love them, guide them, do not push them away. Ask them how they are feeling right now, talk with them about their choices, how far along mama is, what can you do to help.. Make a game plan! Start with discussing jobs, finances, the home they will live in/raise the child in for the first year at least, how can you arrange childcare, what about transportation, how can they finish school, etc. Not all of this needs to be addressed off the bat, but progressively and productively, all filled with love and positivity, as your children make these tough decisions at such a young age. They will be so grateful for the gentle guidance we can provide to them.
What ARE their choices? We mentioned choices in the above paragraph, but some people truly do not know their options and what all that entails. She has the option to access abortion, pursue closed or open adoption, or choose to raise the baby, either co-parenting with the child’s father, or as a single mother. No woman should EVER be forced, coerced or intimidated into any of these options, she should be presented with non-biased, evidence-based research as well as equal anecdotal experiences on all of the following and make her own decision.
Nutrition is vital once a young mama finds out she is pregnant, just like any other mama! Many teenagers do not know how to eat properly, especially if they are raised in a home that does not exactly model healthy meal plans. Start together. Look into the Dr Brewers diet, it is sustainable and nutrition-packed and perfect for a mama to start when she is pregnant, reducing the likelihood of complications such as high blood pressure, anemia, premature labor, low birth weight, and more, that teenage pregnancies are stereotypically associated with.
Mental health is also an important aspect to address for a young mama. She may lose all of her peer support and friends from school once she is pregnant, she may even lose her relationship with her boyfriend. Talk to her about visiting a therapist that she can vent to and discuss all the hardships of losing those peers and the social status at her school. Find out what teenage pregnancy resources are available locally to you, and go with her to classes, support groups, so she does not feel so alone!
Now, discuss the birth plan! A lot of care providers assume that a teenager will not make it through labor without some kind of pain medication, and this stigma needs to stop. Just because you have a first-time mom, that is young, that does not know much pain, sitting in front of you, does not mean that she is any less than a 30-year-old first-time mom. Her body is just as capable, just as strong, do not dare treat her less. Talk to her about her options, provide her with evidence-based research, and allow her to decide and compile her birth plan herself. The best thing you can do if you have a daughter that is aiming for a natural birth – is get her a doula! No matter what birth setting she is choosing to birth in, home, birth center, or hospital, a doula is full of great techniques and knowledge to advocate for that mama! Even when a mama is under-age, she still has the right to choose how her body is treated, what interventions are involved during her birth, and how her baby will be treated, she is still in control! Support her in her choices. First time, young mama can have a home birth, too! Home births are not just for trendy millenials that have already had a couple of children, but for anyone who grasps the concept of undisturbed, physiological birth.
Then, we fall into the fourth trimester. This is a hard one for young mamas. They likely do not have a friend that they were pregnant with at the same time, that now has a sweet newborn around the same age; someone to vent to, ask questions to, and bond with, as a new mom. Likely, all of their friends are actually getting ready for a school dance, like prom or homecoming, attending a football game, on a date with their newest partner, or cramming for finals, while she is learning to breastfeed, doing laundry, changing diapers, and possibly also cramming for finals and doing home work! Being a great support person for a young mama in her postpartum period includes watching for signs of postpartum depression and educating her on those signs as well (The edinburgh scale is wonderful for this), take her places (the mall, the beach, outside for a walk), acknowledge that she is still a person and her dreams, goals and wishes are still obtainable and they still matter! Young moms absolutely breastfeed, too, and it will help her get more sleep by dream feeding, not have to stress about bringing bottles, water and formula out and about, and she can start her baby out with an amazing microbiome and immunity. Praise her on her successes and choices, she is blossoming and flourishing as a new mama.
As a society, we can do much better in encouraging the success of young mothers everywhere because like it or not, young motherhood is going to happen and instead of shunning them from schools and workplaces, they deserve to be a functioning and strong representation of what a young mama looks like. Implementing nursing or pumping rooms in schools, fighting for pumping rights in the workplace for ALL, advocating for teen rights in birth settings, providing resources further than “maybe you should consider adoption”, and overall coming together as a community to ask how we can help young mothers locally to us, will make a MASSIVE difference in our growing generations and the bond between a young mother and her child.
So let’s branch our village out and surround young mamas in love, grace and support, shall we?