Teenagers and birth


 This article Teenagers and Birth explains some of the issues that are common amongst teenagers when they are at the end of pregnancy or giving birth.

Many teenagers do extremely well during pregnancy and birth. They are fit and healthy and look after their bodies and their growing babies well. Feeling well supported and being well informed helps enormously.

Every pregnant woman in New Zealand is entitled to a lead maternity carer, who will care for and support them during the pregnancy, birth and for 6 weeks afterwards. Usually this is a midwife; occasionally it may be a doctor. Ask your Lead Maternity Carer (LMC) about special antenatal classes for teenagers or support groups in your area. If you live in a city it is more likely that these will be available, but some rural areas may also offer teenage classes.

The key to a healthy pregnancy and birth is looking after yourself and your baby! Please visit our article Teenagers and Pregnancy to get some great advice on nutrition, avoiding drugs and alcohol and making good decisions.

Teenagers are more likely to have problems around the birth, statistically speaking, and these are discussed below. However, if you eat a balanced diet, exercise throughout your pregnancy and avoid drugs, alcohol and smoking, you are massively increasing your chances – and your baby’s – of a healthy outcome!

Pre-eclampsia in teenage pregnancies

This condition can affect any pregnancy, particularly your first pregnancy and is more common amongst teenagers.

It causes –

  • swelling of the hands, feet and face
  • protein in the urine, which is a sign that the kidneys are not working well (kidneys are like a sieve and should not let ‘large’ protein molecules through them)
  • high blood pressure

The effect on the mum is that she can feel unwell, with blurred vision and headaches and, rarely, may even have a fit.

The effect on the baby is possibly not growing so well, they are more likely to be born early and could come to harm through receiving a poor blood supply.

Pre-eclampsia cannot be prevented as there are many aspects of the disease that doctors do not understand. Eating a healthy diet with lots of fruit, vegetables and fibre, avoiding takeaway food and exercising gently will certainly help to keep you well.

Premature births and teenagers

A pregnancy lasts on average 266 days or 40 weeks. If a baby is born before 37 weeks this is classed as premature and the baby will be small, may not feed well and may also have breathing problems – particularly before 34 weeks.

Prematurity is more common amongst teenagers, due to a link also with smoking, drugs and alcohol. In order to give your baby the best chance of growing to a good size and staying inside your womb until at least 37 weeks – cut out smoking, alcohol and drugs altogether.

Some people think that labour will hurt less if the baby’s small – actually this is not true at all and if you are afraid of pain you can have an epidural (see below to find out more about pain relief in labour).

In addition make sure you eat well – 3 good meals with nutritious snacks in between, to keep your energy levels high. Excellent foods include –

  • Fruit and vegetables and salads
  • Bread, rice and pasta
  • Lean meat and fish
  • Dairy foods, such as milk and yogurt

Low birth weight babies born to teenagers

This is linked with premature babies – obviously if babies are born early they have not had as long to grow!

The advice to prevent this happening to your baby, which could result in your baby needing to go to the special care nursery after the birth, is the same as above –

  • Cut out smoking
  • Don’t drink alcohol or take drugs while you are pregnant
  • Eat well
  • Keep fit

Keep an eye on your baby’s movements – they are the best sign of a well baby. If there is any reduction in the number of movements, inform your midwife immediately. Your baby may be in distress.

The birth itself

Be prepared – ask about those birth education classes, they will be friendly and informal.

Chat with family and friends – not for horror stories, but for a bit of advice on what worked well for them.

Think about who you want with you at the birth. I would really advise you to keep this to a minimum. Mums do not ‘labour well’ with an audience. You will feel more relaxed with 1 or 2 supportive, strong people who are going to rub your back and encourage you every step of the way!

Be aware of your options. Most people will advise you to have your baby in hospital, but if you are wanting to birth at home, ask for a fair opinion of how healthy you are in pregnancy and how likely you are to have problems.

Many teenagers are resilient and strong and are well through their labour before they come to hospital asking for pain relief. Others are very frightened at the first pains. These are all completely natural reactions. Just keep an open mind and see how it goes.

Like any other mum in labour you may have a straightforward, normal birth. Likewise you may have a whole host of complications. There are links to other articles below, explaining Caesarean section, normal birth and assisted birth. These will help you to understand the procedures, should you need any interventions.

And finally, your recovery…

Well, this will all depend upon how well you looked after yourself in pregnancy. If you’ve eaten well and continue to eat well after the birth, done lots of gentle exercise such as walking and swimming and avoided those dreaded cigarettes – then as a young, fit woman your recovery should be swift and problem free.

Breastfeeding your baby will help you to return to your pre-pregnant shape, but remember it took 9 months for your body to change shape, so don’t expect any miracles overnight. Usually 6 months of breastfeeding and eating a generous but healthy diet will get you back in your pre-pregnancy clothes and feeling great!

Useful articles for pregnant teenagers

Pain relief in birth will give you more information on your choices

Caesarean section tells you all you need to know about Caesarean birth

Assisted birth gives you information  on what to expect if you need forceps or ventouse to help you give birth

Normal birth explains the process and procedures involved in a normal birth

Teenagers and Pregnancy explains your choices in early pregnancy and how to look after yourself in pregnancy, choosing good nutrition and avoiding alcohol, cigarettes and drugs.


Paula Skelton

Paula Skelton is a qualified NZ nurse and midwife, a midwifery & childbirth educator and the mum of three lovely girls.

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