According to The Straits Times, “the number of teenage girls getting pregnant in the past decade has dropped massively, and it is not because fewer of them are having sex. Instead, social workers say, it is because today’s teens are more savvy about using contraceptives.”
Though the numbers of teenage pregnancies has dropped over the years, the numbers are still on the high side. The underlying issue isn’t completely gone, teenagers are still dealing with unwanted pregnancy. Teenagers, still a child, are not ready to be parents.
Being a first-time mother is not easy and doing so as a teenager is much more difficult. Teenage pregnancy has its own challenges that come from all angles – social, education, financial, emotional and physical. While every situation is unique, here are the common challenges surrounding teenage pregnancy.
For teenagers who are younger than 15 and don’t receive prenatal care, there is an increased risk of preterm labour, high blood pressure and anemia. Babies may also have low birth weight.
School dropout risks
Pregnant teenagers may drop out from school, affecting their career prospects. Statistically, teen mothers have lower education, receive lower income and are more likely to suffer from domestic violence.
Depression rates are higher for young parents with higher level of anxiety or guilt. The challenges can seem overwhelming, increasing postpartum depression risks for both the male and female teenagers.
Neglect for baby
Raising a baby is not easy – it goes beyond feeding and clothing the baby, which in itself is already energy and time consuming. Babies need warmth, touch and human interaction to thrive and the impact of the first few years of life extend to adulthood. Teenage parents may be overwhelmed in their current struggles, resulting in neglect for the baby or parenting harshly given the stress that they are facing.
Giving birth is not cheap with the cost of prenatal visits and hospital stay during delivery. Formula milk, diaper and baby essentials also cost money. Childcare is another expense, along with medical consultations for the baby. It is difficult for a teenager who is not yet financially independent to bear all these expenses, while at the same time facing the potential loss of future income if education is terminated.
Support for Teenagers
Teenagers who are pregnant require a lot of support – after all, they are not yet adults and are dependent on their parents in many ways. Support is often needed in the following areas:
Proper prenatal care is important. Often teenage pregnancy is unexpected, and in certain instances, teenagers may find themselves alone to handle the pregnancy. Prenatal care may be sidelined to tackle other matters; proper nutrition or tests to be taken during each trimester may be neglected, exposing the teenager and her baby to increased risk. Accompanying the teenager for regular prenatal visits, helping to prepare healthy diet and connecting with the teenager through doing light exercise together are ways to provide support for her health (and also emotionally). Also encourage the teenager to quit risky substances like tobacco.
It can be overwhelming to go through the physical changes to the body with a growing fetus, dealing with nausea, pain or aches, constipation or other discomfort. Encourage the teenager to go for childbirth class, or accompany her to learn about pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. Make an appointment with a lactation consultant for the teenager both before and right after birth to ensure that breastfeeding is smooth.
#3 Education/ Career
Speak to the school to find out whether there is the flexibility to continue education or seek more appropriate alternatives. Look for courses that can be conducted at home or offer more flexibility.
Since a teenager is not financially independent, it is important to help with the finances and together work out a plan for the teenager to be able to support herself and her baby financially later in life.
Emotional support is important and helps to reduce stress, anxiety and risk of depression in teenagers. It is important to guide the teenagers so that they face the pregnancy and parenting with a positive attitude, which in turn positively affect their baby.
It is important to work out with the teenage parents the amount of support they can expect to receive, and the amount of responsibilities that they should take on. The first few years are critical in a baby’s development and family members can help in different ways to lighten the load for the teenagers.
In Singapore, one can contact the following organizations or agencies for support
– Pregnancy Crisis Service (PCS) that offers a 24/7, 365 days helpline that supports anyone who may be facing an unwanted, suspected or unexpected pregnancy.
– Babes (Babes Pregnancy Crisis Support Limited): A teenage pregnancy crisis service that reaches out to teenage pregnant girls in need of help and support. Babes also work with hospitals, polyclinics and other social service agencies to provide support in terms of medical care, shelter, adoption services, counselling and financial assistance. Babes’ 24-hr helpline is +65 8111 3535.
Problems are not just limited to the pregnant teen but also the male, for instance he may drop out of school to take on a job. Family support is important for both teenagers who have decided to have the baby and form a family. No doubt it is not easy for teenagers to be parents, but with practical support and encouragement, the teens can beat the odds and carve a life for themselves and their baby.