By Raising Children Network
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Mother and daughter looking at each other iStockphoto.com/Plougmann

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Young mums who have family support are more likely to stay in school, get a job, have good mental health and parent more confidently.
 
If your teenage daughter is having a baby or your teenage son is going to be a father, your family life will go through lots of changes. The pregnancy might not be what you’d expected, but you can play a big role in supporting a healthy pregnancy and helping your teenager get ready to be a parent.

Your feelings about teenage pregnancy

Different people feel all sorts of things when they hear their child is going to become a parent at a young age.

You could feel shock, anger, disappointment and concern about your teenager’s future. There could be regret that you didn’t do enough to stop the pregnancy from happening. And you might wonder about what extended family members, friends and people at school and in your community will think.

On the other hand, you might think it’s wonderful and feel excited about becoming a grandparent.

You’re also likely to have mixed feelings, which is normal. Your feelings might change over time, especially as the time of birth comes closer – or they might not.

Your feelings are important, but pushing them onto your teenager probably won’t help the situation. Your care and support really will help your pregnant daughter to have a physically and emotionally healthy pregnancy. If your son is going to be a father, he needs your support to step up to the role.

It might sometimes be hard, but starting a conversation about feelings that come up during the pregnancy can be good for your relationship with your teenager. 

Your teenager’s feelings about pregnancy

Your teenager is probably going through some intense and mixed feelings about the pregnancy and becoming a parent.

If the pregnancy is planned, your teenager might be looking forward to parenthood. But if the pregnancy isn’t planned, your teenager might be pretty stressed about telling you and finding out how you feel. There’s also the worry about what extended family and other people will think – now and after the baby is born.

Young people who become parents often experience judgmental attitudes from peers at school and other people in their lives. If your teenager knows he or she can come to you with fears, worries, hopes and dreams, it might help with coping.

Your teenager might not know what kind of support will help during pregnancy. By saying something like ‘What can we do together to help you right now?’ you’re helping your teenager to think and talk about the support she or he needs.

Encouraging your teenager to get support through the school’s wellbeing team is also a good idea. 

If your son is becoming a father, he can check out our Dads Guide to Pregnancy. It has information about what he might be going through and how to support the mother-to-be.

Teenage antenatal care and birth choices

All pregnant women need proper and timely antenatal care, but pregnant women under 19 years need extra care in pregnancy and during parenting. They have special health concerns because their own bodies are still growing and developing, and their emotions can be very mixed and fragile.

The earlier your daughter gets antenatal care, the more likely she is to have a healthy pregnancy.

Step 1: see your general practitioner (GP)
Your daughter needs to see a GP to confirm her pregnancy and to have some basic health checks.

Your daughter will need to book several antenatal appointments and tests during pregnancy at this first GP visit.

A GP can also give your daughter options for antenatal care and birth.

Step 2: look into teen-specific antenatal care
Ask the GP and the local child and family health service whether there are any local antenatal services that are experienced in working with pregnant teenagers. 

These services can understand your daughter’s special physical, emotional, financial and educational needs. They usually have teams of people to care for young pregnant women – doctors, midwives, social workers, dietitians, counsellors and mental health workers.

Step 3: look into birth classes
Birth classes are good for all parents-to-be.

They give detailed information about signs of labour, actual labour, options for managing pain in labour and birth. Most classes include information about parenting in the first few months, settling babies, breastfeeding and getting the right support. 

Most hospitals have birth classes, and some hospitals have them especially for younger parents. If your teenager isn’t comfortable at birth classes, ask about other sessions or options. Sometimes school nurses are also midwives and can spend one-to-one time with teenagers at school.

Support and privacy: finding a balance
Your daughter might sometimes want to talk to health professionals by herself, with her partner or someone else she trusts.

Legally, you might still be responsible for your daughter – but your daughter is going to be a parent. Learning to make decisions independently will help her build confidence. Talking privately with health professionals is good practice for when she’s responsible for her baby’s health as well as her own.

If your daughter has a partner, their relationship might change during the pregnancy and after the birth. Supporting her without getting involved will help your daughter be empowered in her relationship. If you, your daughter and your daughter’s partner can have an early conversation about how involved they want you and his parents to be in antenatal care and birth, things might be easier. Your daughter’s needs might change, though, so be prepared to be flexible.

It can be an anxious time as you balance support for your child with the need for her to develop independence.

Healthy eating, exercise and lifestyle for pregnant teenagers

The health professionals involved in your daughter’s antenatal care will talk to her about choosing healthy food, keeping active, managing stress, quitting smoking and alcohol, and stopping any other risky activities.

It might be tempting to tell your daughter what to do or what not to do – after all, you want to help her stay well. But a good way to support her is by letting her know that you think she can make her own good decisions about her health and her baby’s health too. 

If she’s worried about anything or doesn’t know what to do, you can suggest she talks to the health professionals caring for her.

If your son is an expectant father, you can encourage him to take on a healthier lifestyle.  This can help motivate his expectant partner to do the same.

Your pregnant teenager will be going through many changes and feelings. Understanding pregnancy changes from week to week can help her cope with what’s going on.

Healthy eating
What your daughter eats is more important than how much she eats.

Healthy eating is especially important during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Your daughter needs energy from good food to support her baby’s health and growth as well as her own.

If your daughter isn’t used to preparing her own meals or eating good food away from home, you might be able to help by sharing some of your favourite healthy recipes. You could plan meals and go shopping together, which can also help her with budgeting. You might even be able to spend some time together cooking.

Some young mums community programs also focus on healthy eating and run cooking classes.

If your daughter is significantly overweight or has a history of eating disorders, her health professionals might refer her to a dietitian.

Dieting
Your daughter might be uncomfortable with the way her body looks and feels while she’s pregnant. But pregnancy is not the time to try to lose weight through dieting or intense exercise. This can be harmful for her baby.

She should avoid:

  • skipping meals
  • taking diet or weight-loss supplements
  • taking nutritional supplements claiming to be healthy for weight loss
  • taking natural remedies claiming to be healthy for weight loss
  • starting an intense exercise regimen.

You can encourage her to speak to her doctor or midwife about her changing body.

Your daughter might feel better about her changing body if she gets some new clothes that she feels good in. Going shopping together might be fun and another way to show your support.

Staying active
Staying active can help your daughter feel better during pregnancy.

It can improve mood, fitness and sleep, boost energy and ease back pain. Physical activity and healthy eating during pregnancy might also reduce the risk of your daughter having pre-eclampsia, too much weight gain and diabetes. It can also help her cope better during birth.

If your teenager isn’t very active, or she’s used to being very active, she can ask her midwife or doctor early in pregnancy about how much physical activity she should do. You might encourage your son to go for regular walks with his pregnant partner as a way of supporting their physical fitness together.

Cutting out smoking, alcohol and other drugs
Most things that your daughter eats and drinks in pregnancy will pass through to her placenta and then to her baby.

She needs to avoid too many caffeinated drinks – like coffee, tea and energy drinks – and quit alcohol, smoking, other non-prescribed drugs, or prescribed drugs that aren’t approved by her health professionals as safe in pregnancy.

Your daughter should check with her doctor or midwife that any medicines she’s taking are safe for pregnancy. This includes prescribed medicines, herbal medicines, natural supplements and medicines from chemists and supermarkets.

Cigarette smoke also passes through to the baby. If your daughter or son needs help to quit smoking, she or he can talk to the doctor or midwife or call the Quitline on 137 848.

Alcohol and other drugs such as marijuana, speed, ice, heroin and cocaine:

  • are harmful for your daughter’s or son’s physical and mental health
  • can cause significant harm to the growth and development of the baby
  • can cause complications during pregnancy and labour – for example, premature birth or birth defects
  • can cause problems in the relationship between expectant parents.

If you have concerns about your teenager’s substance use, talk to your teenager straight away and encourage your teenager to talk to the doctor, midwife or school nurse. If teenagers know they’re not alone, they might be open to getting help. Pregnancy is a great motivator for change.

Some young parents can get stressed out by pregnancy and early parenting. Some can end up feeling anxious, frustrated, angry or overwhelmed. Sometimes this can even lead to aggression or violence. If you notice your teenager struggling with these feelings, you or your teenager can get help by calling 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). You can also get online counselling at the 1800RESPECT website.

Health risks for pregnant teenagers

Some of the risks that pregnant teenagers and young mothers face are:

  • premature births
  • babies born with a lower birth weight
  • problems with breastfeeding
  • anaemia, or low iron levels, during pregnancy
  • high blood pressure
  • emotional and mental health problems
  • substance misuse.

Healthy lifestyle choices and your support can help your pregnant daughter avoid or minimise these risks.

Becoming a grandparent: new responsibilities

As your teenager prepares to become a parent and you prepare to become a grandparent, you might be thinking about some big questions:

  • How ready am I to become a grandparent?
  • How involved do I want to be in raising this grandchild?
  • How much financial support am I willing and able to give?
  • Will I be expected to provide child care? How much time do I have for child care?
  • Will my teenager and baby live with me?
  • What can my teenager do about money and finances?
  • How can I support my teenager to finish school and/or work?

You can talk to your teenager about your questions and concerns about their future.

Supporting your child to finish school or work
Education is the key to a healthy future.

You and your teenager could talk together to a social worker, counsellor or your teenager’s antenatal team to find out more about education options and planning, as well as school programs that support young parents.

Your teenager might be able to get special consideration or extra time-out for medical appointments or poor health. A modified timetable can help some young parents-to-be. Some secondary schools have child care facilities.

Services and support for parents of pregnant teenagers

The following services can help as you and your family go through this big life change.

Parentline Australian Capital Territory 

  • Phone: (02) 6287 3833
  • Hours: 9 am-9 pm, Monday to Friday

Parent Line New South Wales 

  • Phone: 1300 130 052 (cost of a local call)
  • Hours: 9 am-9 pm, Monday to Friday, 4 pm-9 pm, Saturday and Sunday

Parentline Queensland and Northern Territory 

  • Phone: 1300 301 300 (cost of a local call)
  • Hours: 8 am-10 pm, 7 days a week

Parent Helpline South Australia 

  • Phone: 1300 364 100 (cost of a local call)
  • Hours: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Parentline Tasmania

  • Phone: 1300 808 178 (cost of a local call)
  • Hours: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Parentline Victoria 

  • Phone: 132 289 (cost of a local call)
  • Hours: 8 am to midnight, 7 days a week

Parenting WA Line 

  • Phone: (08) 6279 1200 or 1800 654 432 (free for STD callers)
  • Hours: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

You can also call:

Our parent and family services article also lists links and resources that can help you.

Sharing support, advice and experiences with other parents can be a big help. You could try starting a conversation in our online forum for parents of teenagers.
 
 
 
  • Last updated or reviewed 20-08-2013
  • Acknowledgements This article was written in collaboration with Angela Steele from Family Planning Victoria.