• Why Teen Pregnancy Poses Higher Health Risks for Both Mom and Baby

    Teen pregnancy faces a number of challenges physically and mentally.
    by Kitty Elicay .
Why Teen Pregnancy Poses Higher Health Risks for Both Mom and Baby
PHOTO BY iStock
  • According to the most recent National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS 2017) from the Department of Health, teen pregnancy in the Philippines is on the rise and we are the only country in the Asia-Pacific region,  where the rate of teen pregnancy increased over the last two decades, according to the latest report of the UN Population Fund.

    It was a reality depicted in Motherland, an award-winning documentary that followed the tales of several mothers inside Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital. In the film’s opening scene, a woman about to give birth to her fifth child narrates that she gave birth to her eldest when she was 18 or 19. Another mom gave birth while she was 17, and the film follows her as she struggles with her new role.

    Women who become pregnant in their teens face a number of challenges from health and mental risks to emotional turmoil.

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    Health risks of a teen pregnancy

    Preeclampsia

    Teens are at a high risk of pregnancy-related high blood pressure and its complications, according to Healthline. Preeclampsia usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in women whose blood pressure had been normal. Aside from elevated blood pressure, edema (swelling under your skin especially in the legs and or arms) and increased protein in the urine are possible signs of preeclampsia, according to obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Gergen Lazaro-Dizon of Makati Medical Center. 

    If you develop the condition, you and your baby may both be at risk. If untreated, it can harm your kidneys, liver, brain, cardiovascular system, and other organs. Preeclampsia is one of the major causes of preterm birth. It can also result in stillbirths when the placenta separates from the uterus, also called placental abruption, and can cause the mother to bleed profusely.

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    Preterm birth

    Babies born too early, or before 37 weeks of pregnancy have been completed are preterm or premature. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teens and young mothers are more likely to give birth to premature babies. This is in part due to preeclampsia and the possibility that expecting teens do not get the health care that they need.

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    Low birth weight

    Premature babies also tend to be underweight — around five pounds or even less on average. Premature and low birth babies face a number of health issues like difficulty breathing, bleeding, and a lack of oxygen in the brain. Due to their underdeveloped immune systems, they are also prone to infections, blood complications, vision problems, and gastrointestinal issues.

    Anemia

    Pregnant teens are also at risk of becoming anemic. Anemia is common in teens because they go through rapid growth spurts, and the body will have a greater need for all types of nutrients including iron. Lack of iron can cause hemoglobin levels and red blood cell production to go down, leading to iron deficiency anemia, according to KidsHealth.

    After puberty, girls are at more risk of iron deficiency anemia because their bodies need more iron to compensate for blood loss during menstrual periods. When they become pregnant as teens, they are also more likely to develop anemia.

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    Complications during childbirth for teens

    According to the World Health Organization, childbirth is one of the leading cause of death for girls ages 15 to 19 in the world. Babies are also at higher risk for infant mortality.

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    Postpartum depression

    Moms who give birth in their teens are twice as likely to develop postpartum depression, according to Seleni Institute, a global, nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the emotional health of pregnant women and their families. The risk of developing the mental condition also increases if the mother has a weak support system or is dealing with an unintended pregnancy. This may make parenting their baby in a healthy way difficult.

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    How to take care of your pregnancy if you're a teenager

    Get prenatal care

    Just like any pregnancy, it is essential to have regular prenatal visits in order to monitor both your and your baby’s health. Because of your age, you may need specialized care, so it’s important that you take prenatal vitamins containing folic acid, calcium, and iron as soon as possible. This is also to help prevent birth defects.

    Avoid stress and get enough sleep

    Since teen pregnancy comes with many health risks, it’s important to exercise caution and to get plenty of rest. Target eight to nine hours of sleep every day, and make sure to take breaks during the day.

    Provide emotional support

    Getting pregnant at a young age, especially an unplanned one, can take a toll on your well-being. You can face “constant shaming and stigma,” says Gloria Malone, co-founder of the social media campaign #NoTeenShame in support of teen mothers.

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    The responsibilities that come with being a parent can also be overwhelming, and it may lead to unwanted sacrifices, like temporarily halting your education to give birth. Teenage parents often fail to go back to school or pursue higher levels of education, according to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

    Of course, every experience is different, and there have been many success stories where teen moms did not let pregnancy get in the way of living a good life. It is why it’s important to get emotional support, not only from the baby’s father but from your family and friends as well.

    Do not hesitate to reach out and express your thoughts to those who are close to you — it can relieve stress and lessen the burden that you feel.

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    Prepare for your new role.

    You are now carrying a human life inside you, so take the time to prepare for your baby’s arrival. Aside from research on the Internet, attend birth classes because it will give you an idea what to expect during labor and delivery. Parenting classes can help you cope with the responsibility of raising a child as well as orient you on the things you need for baby care. You can also find support in online mom groups. (You may want to check out our communities at Parent Chat and Smart Parenting Village.)

    Teen pregnancy comes with many risks, from physical, mental, and emotional health, but it is possible to give birth to healthy babies. By heeding your doctor's advice and not being afraid to reach out for the support you need, your path to motherhood may be early, but it can also be your most fulfilling adventure.

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