Teen Pregnancy Health Risks

Teen pregnancy health risks can be more greater than the risks of a pregnant adult. This article discusses some of the health risks pregnant teens should be aware of and the signs and symptoms to look for to help prevent any problems and have a healthy pregnancy.

Pregnant teens and their babies face some special health challenges, which is why it is so important for pregnant teens to get good medical care early in their pregnancy. With good medical care, teens increase their chances of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

Care by a doctor during pregnancy is called prenatal care. Prenatal doctor's visits allow the doctor to make sure the teen and her baby are healthy, and to address any health needs the teen may face. Teens may be afraid to admit they are pregnant, so they don't get the care they need. Lack of prenatal care is a major cause of teen pregnancy complications.  Teens who don't have insurance or can't afford a doctor are usually able to get medical care from special programs for pregnant women. A doctor's office, community health department, or another knowledgeable adult can help a teen find a way to get prenatal care.

Some of the teen pregnancy health risks include:

  • Anemia, or low iron in the blood. This can be treated by taking the right prenatal vitamins, which your doctor can recommend for you.
  • High blood pressure, which can cause health problems for the mother and baby. It can lead to preeclampsia, which causes excess swelling in the hands and feet and leads to organ damage if it is not treated. Doctors carefully monitor a pregnant teen's blood pressure to make sure it stays at a safe level. If it gets high, the doctor will treat it with medicine or, in an emergency, deliver the baby early.
  • Premature birth, when the baby is born earlier than it should be. Modern medicine gives premature babies a good chance of being healthy, but doctors may advise teens on ways to help the baby remain in the womb as long as possible.
  • Low birth weight baby. When a baby is born very small (under 5.5 pounds) it has more risks for health problems. Being born too early, not getting good nutrition, or drug and alcohol use can increase the risk for this problem.
  • Poor nutrition. Because teens’ bodies are still developing, they need to be especially careful to have a good diet while pregnant, putting on a healthy amount of weight by eating good foods, like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low fat meats and dairy products. If you cannot afford these foods, the government's Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) Program can help you buy healthy food for yourself and your baby.
  • Drug or alcohol use. This problem is not unique to teens, but teens who have a substance abuse problem should try to quit as soon as they can for their own health and the health of their baby.
  • Eating disorders. Eating disorders are alarmingly common among teens, and can be harmful to the baby and the teen's body, which need all the nutrition they can get.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases. STDs are very common among sexually active teens, and it's important to have them treated as soon as possible. Using a condom if you have sex after you are pregnant is important to help prevent STDs.
  • Depression. Pregnancy is a time of many complicated emotions, but especially when teens don't get good support they may feel alone and depressed. Depression increases the risk that a teen will not take good care of herself. Support groups can help by giving teens someone to talk to. Depression may also set in after a baby is born. This is called postpartum depression and is fairly common. Teens shouldn't be ashamed of depression, but should talk to someone about it.

A doctor can monitor a pregnant teen’s health and the baby's growth and let the teen listen to her baby's heartbeat. Usually they will tell teens what to expect during each phase of pregnancy, and what symptoms might indicate a problem, or pregnancy complication. Teens should not be afraid to ask their doctor questions. Doctors have already heard all kinds of questions, so teens don’t need to be embarrassed to ask them anything. It’s also important to always tell the truth when doctors ask questions in order to get the best care possible. The best way to avoid teen pregnancy health risks is to educate yourself.


WebMD, Health and Pregnancy, "Teen Pregnancy: Medical Risks and Realities" [online]

Nemours, TeensHealth, "Having a Healthy Pregnancy" [online]

March of Dimes, "Teenage Pregnancy" [online]

Related Article: Surviving an Unplanned Pregnancy >>