Read about high risk pregnancies in the media and the focus is often on women ages 35 and above. Surprisingly, teens also fall into this category. Dr. Gillian Dean, senior director of medical services for Planned Parenthood Federation of America tells Parentology, “Compared to people in their 20s or 30s, teens may be more at risk for some of [pregnancy-related health risks] because their bodies are still growing and maturing, or because they often face more challenging social situations, which can be a risk for poor pregnancy outcomes.”
A list of some potential health dangers for teens includes: hypertension/high blood pressure, placenta previa, anemia, toxemia and cephalopelvic disproportion.
‘Teens who are pregnant are at a great risk of preeclampsia, a disease in pregnancy identified by high blood pressure (HBP) and other symptoms like protein in the urine, or problems with internal organs, like liver or lungs,” Dean warns.
Mother and baby can both experience complications due to preeclampsia, a condition experienced in later in pregnancy. “Preeclampsia can lead to other serious health problems if left untreated,” Dean adds.
*Parentology note: Preeclampsia is also be referred to as toxemia.
Anemia refers to a deficiency of healthy red blood cells leading to inadequate amounts of oxygen being carried to the body’s tissues. Symptoms of this condition include fatigue, headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath and weakness.
During pregnancy, the placenta develops inside the uterus, connecting to the baby via the umbilical cord to provide nutrition and oxygen and removing waste. When the placenta covers the cervix, this leads to placenta previa, a potentially life-threatening condition where severe bleeding occurs. It can also lead to pre-term births.
Cephalopelvic Disproportion (CPD)
CPD, also referred to as small bony pelvis, is when a baby’s head is unable to fit through the mother’s pelvis either due to size or positioning. In teen pregnancies, this can be more prominent due to the underdeveloped pelvis bones of the mother. Though CPD is a rare condition, being aware of its presence in advance can precipitate scheduling a Cesarean section to avoid complications such as a painful labor and/or tearing of the birth canal.
Beyond these conditions, Dean says, “Teens are also at a higher risk of having a premature birth, delivering a baby of low birth weight, having a cesarean section (or C-section) or needing tools to assist with vaginal delivery.”
Prenatal Care is Key
With the exception of preeclampsia and a small bony pelvis in the adolescent, the majority of complications of teenage pregnancy are more a function of lack of prenatal care than maternal age.
“Unfortunately, young people are less likely to receive adequate prenatal care,” Dean says. “Pregnant teens who don’t have supportive parents or a support system may feel scared, alone or isolated and less likely to be comfortable seeking prenatal care, or worried about its costs.” She suggests pregnant women without health insurance check into getting low-cost or free prenatal care from Planned Parenthood, community health centers or other family planning centers.
Not only does consistent prenatal care help minimize the likelihood of complications from age-related risks, it also helps ensure the teen has the right nutritional and emotional support to minimize such risks as premature birth and low birth weight, factors that lead to myriad of health issues for the baby.
“The good news is,” Dean says, “having regular check-ups and working closely with your doctor or nurse to get prenatal care can reduce these risks and help you and your baby stay safe and healthy.”
Postnatal Care is Important, Too
The increased health risks of teen pregnancy don’t end with the baby’s arrival. Teens are amongst the one in nine people who experience postpartum depression. “With this kind of depression, you may feel sad, hopeless, anxious and/or disconnected from your baby for weeks or months,” Dean says. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it is necessary to get the support you need, when you need it.” Something that holds true through all facets of a pregnancy.
Dr. Gillian Dean, senior director of medical services for Planned Parenthood Federation of America
PubMed: Pregnancy in Adolescents
PubMed: Teenage Pregnancy
WebMD: Teen Pregnancy: Medical Risks and Realities
Cleveland Clinic: High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy
American Pregnancy Association: CPD
Frequency of Obstructed Labor in Teenage Pregnancy
WebMD: What is Cephalopelvic Disproportion?