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Teen Pregnancy: Medical Risks and Realities

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Teen pregnancy: Medical risks and realities continued...

Teenage girls who are pregnant -- especially if they don't have support from their parents -- are at risk of not getting adequate prenatal care. Prenatal care is critical, especially in the first months of pregnancy. Prenatal care screens for medical problems in both mother and baby, monitors the baby's growth, and deals quickly with any complications that arise. Prenatal vitamins with folic acid -- ideally taken before getting pregnant -- are essential in helping to help prevent certain birth defects, such as neural tube defects.

High blood pressure

Pregnant teens have a higher risk of getting high blood pressure -- called pregnancy-induced hypertension -- than pregnant women in their 20s or 30s. They also have a higher risk of preeclampsia. This is a dangerous medical condition that combines high blood pressure with excess protein in the urine, swelling of a mother's hands and face, and organ damage.

These medical risks affect the pregnant teen, who may need to take medications to control symptoms. But they can also disrupt the unborn baby's growth. And, they can lead to further pregnancy complications such as premature birth.

Premature birth

A full-term pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks. A baby that delivers before 37 weeks is a premature baby, or "preemie." In some cases, premature labor that begins too early in pregnancy can be stopped by medications and bed rest. Other times, the baby has to be delivered early for the health of the mother or infant. The earlier a baby is born, the more risk there is of respiratory, digestive, vision, cognitive, and other problems.

Low-birth-weight baby

Teens are at higher risk of having low-birth-weight babies. Premature babies are more likely to weigh less than they should. In part, that’s because they've had less time in the womb to grow. A low-birth-weight baby weighs only 3.3 to 5.5 pounds (1,500 to 2,500 grams). A very-low-birth-weight baby weighs less than 3.3 pounds. Babies that small may need to be put on a ventilator in a hospital's neonatal care unit for help with breathing after birth.

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