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So your baby is having a baby. You may wish things were different, but teen pregnancy is nothing new. And you, and your family, can get through it.
So your baby is having a baby. It’s a strange place to be, but teen pregnancy is your new reality. Your child is still a child, but now has adult decisions to make. And you’re still a parent. Your baby needs you. But there’s only so much you can do. In this article, we’ll look at the situation step by step. First, we’ll go through some of the decisions your child will need to make. Next, we’ll talk about how parents can support their children in this situation. Finally, we’ll talk about some of the resources available to teen parents and their families. Don’t worry. You can do this. Together.
Teen Pregnancy Rates: Facts, Figures, and Trends
The CDC reports that teen pregnancy rates have been going down for over ten years. Still, the United States has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the developed world. Three in 10 American girls will become pregnant before age 20. Of these, one quarter will go through with their pregnancy and have a second baby within two years. Those are some serious stats. But take comfort in knowing that your daughter is not alone. There are resources available to help her decide what to do about her pregnancy. And if she chooses to keep the baby, there are programs so she can finish her education, keep herself and her baby healthy, and prevent future unplanned pregnancies. But she has to have a plan.
What about Dad?
Eight in ten teen dads will not end up marrying the mothers of their children. But that doesn’t mean Dad won’t want to be involved. Research shows that though teenage fathers generally don’t live with their children, they do often contribute in other ways. Many give financial support. In addition, plenty of teen dads are active parents. A good relationship between father and child will make a child more likely to succeed in school. In addition, a child whose dad is involved in their life is less likely to develop behavioral or social problems. So, if possible, the teen father should understand his responsibilities and participate in decision making.
The best possible outcome, of course, is both parents happily involved in raising their child. As a parent, you can help by reaching out to the other family. Together, you can help support the young parents by establishing paternity, brainstorming childcare options, and discussing different ways both families can be involved in raising the child. You should also look into options for custody and support. These vary from state to state. Here are a few articles to get you started:
- Legal issues: Teen Pregnancy (US Legal.Com)
- Becoming a Father (YoungMen’sHealthsite.Org)
- Father’s Rights in Teen Pregnancy (Livestrong)
Teen pregnancy means three options: raising a child, choosing adoption, or ending the pregnancy. Your job is to help your daughter — and the baby’s father, if he’s involved — to understand the options and to support their decision. Whatever your opinions, your daughter will be the one to live with the consequences of her choice, so the decision must ultimately be hers to make, without pressure or judgment.
Terminating the Pregnancy
This is a controversial decision and not one to make lightly. It is possible, however, that your daughter will decide that it’s the best path for her. Abortion is legal in every state. However, different states have different laws regarding how, when, and where a woman may terminate a pregnancy. Some states require parental consent if the mother is under 18. Others may prohibit abortion after a certain amount of time. Still, others have laws about using public funding for abortion. If this is an option your daughter is considering, make sure to check the laws in your state. In addition, ask your doctor for a referral, or research to find a safe, licensed provider.
The United States has four kinds of adoption. These are:
- Guardianship: a temporary arrangement where the court gives custody of a child to a family member or other chosen party. This can be a good option in the case of teen pregnancy, as the parents can finish school first then be parents when they’re ready.
- Kinship Adoption: A court grants permanent custody to a family member, such as a grandparent. This procedure is often faster and simpler than a regular adoption.
- Open Adoption: Open adoptions allow birth parents to choose the adoptive family. In addition, birth families may interact with the child through gifts and letters.
- Traditional or Closed Adoption: In this arrangement, biological parents have no contact with the child after adoption, and the court seals the adoption records. In the case of teen pregnancy, this can allow the birth parents closure and a new start.
If your pregnant teen is considering adoption, it’s crucial to understand the adoption laws in your state. The Department of Health and Human Services has lots of information about how to find a qualified adoption agency in your area. In addition, the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys can help you find an adoption lawyer. This article from WikiHow gives a simple explanation of the adoption process.
Keeping and Raising the Baby
It might sound overwhelming, but with family support, teen parents and their children can thrive. Especially if both parents are involved. But there has to be a plan. And that plan must include a healthy pregnancy, finishing school, and a parenting strategy.
A Healthy Pregnancy
Teen pregnancy comes with some additional health risks for mother and child. Pregnant teens are at greater risk for high blood pressure during pregnancy and pre-eclampsia, both of which can be deadly. Low birth weights are more common for babies of teen parents. In addition, teen pregnancy raises the mother’s risk of postpartum depression.
Regular prenatal (during pregnancy) and post-natal (after birth) care can help. Seeing a doctor as soon as pregnancy is discovered is important. Seeing the doctor regularly after that can help to find and treat problems early. Babies who don’t receive prenatal care are five times more likely to die than those who do. And prenatal visits can help protect the mother’s health as well.
Every state offers low-cost prenatal care. For more information contact your local health department or call 800-311-BABY (800-311-2229), or en Espanol 800-504-7081.
Diet is very important along with prenatal care and vitamins. However, for many lower-income families, a teen pregnancy can put a strain on the grocery budget. WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) can help bridge the gap between a healthy diet and financial resources for your pregnant teen. WIC helps buy nutritious food for pregnant women, infants, and children, but also offer counseling, breastfeeding support, and other resources that are very helpful.
More than half of all pregnant teens never finish high school. How much is a high school diploma worth? Well, a high school diploma or GED can get your child $11,000 more per year than they would earn without one. If that child finishes college, the figure rises to a cool million over the course of a lifetime. Teen pregnancy should not mean an end to education. Finishing school must be a priority. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to do that.
- Teen Pregnancy Schools: Some school districts have special schools for teen mothers. These schools allow girls to finish high school while pregnant, or sometimes after the baby comes. Check your school district for further information.
- Online Education: Your pregnant teen may also be able to finish school and get her diploma online. Here’s a roundup of 50 online high school diploma programs.
- GED: The General Equivalence Degree (GED) is a certificate similar to a high school diploma. A person achieves a GED by passing an exam. The GED is recognized in all 50 states, by employers, the military, and universities.
Part of getting through teen pregnancy is helping your child become the best parent they can be. You know how challenging parenting can be. And you also know that it’s not always obvious how to do it right. Parenting education teaches parents what children need at different ages. In addition, it can help both moms and dads with tough questions like discipline, routine, and communication. You can find parenting classes online, as well as in different places in the community, such as schools, churches, libraries and community centers.
A very important way you can help your teen to be a good parent is to help with childcare. Whether this means helping with the cost, or providing care yourself, your assistance can make a big difference in the child’s life — and in the lives of its parents. That’s not always possible, though. So it’s important to look for other resources.
There are federal and state-run programs for with child care and early childhood education. These vary from place to place. Head Start is a free, nationwide educational program for children aged zero to five. Many states also fund early childcare education. In addition, parents may be eligible for a child tax credit to apply to childcare and education costs.
Resources for Pregnant Teens
Below are some resources supplied by HHS:
Sign up for Text 4 Baby.
Texts cover topics like prenatal care, baby health, parenting, and more, free. text4baby.org
Find Title V health care services for pregnant women and their babies.
Get help assessing needs and finding resources: Title V Information System.
Access prenatal and pediatric health resources.
Baby’s first test helps teens understand the medical testing for infants. Also, the Bright Futures Education Center offers 1-2 minute videos with helpful information, such as information about how to prevent infant deaths. You can find more at these sites: Bright Futures for Families, and The National Center for Family/Professional Partnerships.
Learn more about the Office of Minority Health’s A Healthy Baby Begins with You campaign.
Resources for your child’s education, and their child’s, too:
- Explore programs for pregnant and parenting teens such as the GRADS program. The GRADS program
- Enroll your child in Head Start or Early Head Start. Find a Head Start program near you.
Teen pregnancy can be stressful and frightening for everyone involved. It’s an end of childhood, and often the end of childhood plans. It’s natural to feel shocked, disappointed, and even upset. But it’s by no means the end. This can be a time of excitement, of deeper family connection, and of new beginnings. Your baby is no longer a baby. Your relationship will change, but it may change for the better. And through planning, research, and working together, you may find joy in this new phase of your family’s journey.
Featured Image CC by 0, Public Domain, via Megapixel.