Home › Health Topics › Safety & First Aid > 

Teenage pregnancy

Youth; teenager; pregnant; pregnancy; abortion; termination; adoption; baby; single parent; teenage pregnancy; adolescents; smoking; drugs; alcohol; foster ;

Becoming pregnant as an teenager, especially if the pregnancy is not wanted, can put enormous stress on young women and their families. However once it has happened there is no way to go back so the important thing is to support the young woman and to help her to make the wisest choice for her at this time.

Contents

Parents, too, will have their own feelings and wishes, but it is the young woman's life and things usually work out best if parents offer information and support but do not try to force her to follow their wishes.

How likely is it?

  • About 30% of young women in South Australia become pregnant in their teenage years (mostly in their late teenage years) and about 50% of them have a termination of the pregnancy (abortion).
  • Young people with disabilities have the same physical and emotional needs as others, but often receive less information and don't have enough support and protection so they may have a greater risk of becoming pregnant.
  • Young women who are disadvantaged educationally and with few job opportunities may not know about, or use effective contraception.
  • Victims of sexual abuse are more likely to have early and unprotected sexual activity and to become pregnant.
  • About 5% of women who are raped become pregnant because of the rape (see 'Pregnancy after rape').

Choices

This is a very difficult time for a young woman who has only a short time to make a major decision. There is no easy way out.

  • The choices available are continuing with the pregnancy and keeping the baby or giving it up for adoption, or termination (abortion).
  • Some factors to take into account are age, family, personal beliefs, access to services and support, how the young woman sees the pregnancy, and how far the pregnancy has progressed.

The decision needs to be the one that is the best possible decision for the young woman in difficult circumstances at this particular time. She needs to be able to look back and know that the decision she made was the best she could at the time.

  • Parents may feel that their daughter is too young to make a wise decision and may bring enormous pressure on her to do what they think is right.
  • The young woman needs to feel that her parent(s) fully support whatever decision she makes.
  • The father of the child, and his family may also want to be very involved in making decisions.
  • In the end it is the young woman who needs to decide, and she needs to have as much information as possible before making her decision.

Counselling may be very helpful in making choices - see Pregnancy counselling.

Keeping the baby

In choosing to keep the baby she will need to think about:

  • Supports available - family, friends, financial, housing, emotional etc.
  • The role that the baby's father wishes to play
  • Whether the young woman believes she is able to care for a baby
  • The need for counselling in regard to the responsibilities that a young baby brings

It's important that the young woman takes care of herself and has regular checkups

See the topic 'Pregnancy options' on the Young Adult part of this site.

There is a large amount of information for women who are pregnant on the Pregnancy part of this site, including where to go to get antenatal care during a pregnancy. If a young woman starts having antenatal care early in her pregnancy the outcome of that pregnancy is likely to be better, however she will get very supportive care whenever she first seeks care.

Termination (abortion)

  • In South Australia and the rest of Australia, abortion is legal if continuing your pregnancy would harm your physical or mental health more than having the procedure, or if the child is found to be suffering from physical or mental abnormalities. About 50% of young women under 20 years old have an abortion if they become pregnant.
  • Termination is usually available up to 12 weeks but may be done up to 22 weeks (a different procedure). This should be discussed with a doctor.
  • Many teenagers who want to keep their babies are afraid their parents will insist on termination so they do not tell until later in the pregnancy. This puts good antenatal [before birth] care at risk, because babies do best if their mothers have antenatal care as soon as possible after they know they are pregnant.
  • How well the young woman will cope with a termination emotionally is related to her being sure that this is what she wants. Teenagers are often not sure and need support through this stage of decision-making.
  • If a young woman has an termination when she really wants to keep the baby her chances of having emotional problems after the termination are increased and and she is more likely to have another pregnancy at a young age.

There is more about this in the topic Termination of pregnancy on the Pregnancy part of this site.

In South Australia the Pregnancy Advisory Centre provides counselling, pregnancy testing, abortion services.

Legal aspects in South Australia

  • In general a person over 16 year old is able to consent for her own medical procedure in South Australia. This means that a 16 year old can make these decisions without the knowledge or consent of her parents.
  • If a young woman is under 16 and feels she can't talk to her parents about the pregnancy, she can still give consent for the operation however two doctors will need to certify that she understands her decision and the procedure. 
  • In both of these situations, a young woman would be encouraged to get the support of her parents, even if it may not be legally required.

Adoption or foster care 

For many young women who feel "I couldn't possibly give my baby away" adoption is not an option, and few babies are given up for adoption. For others, it can be seen as a good solution because it may give the child a better chance.

  • The outcome for the mother who gives up her baby may not be positive, and this can lead to continuing emotional problems.
  • New adoption legislation has improved the situation, as the mother can have the possibility of later contact with the child.  In South Australia, information can be obtained from Families SA 'Placing a child for adoption in South Australia'.  
  • There is more about adoption and foster care on the Pregnancy part of this site.

Another option for a young mother is to have her baby placed in foster care. This way she will be able to have contact with her baby and may, if and when she is ready, be able to have her baby back in her care.

Issues for young people

It is very important that the young woman has her parents' support at this time.

  • With or without keeping the baby, some will experience a positive result and some will experience isolation, lost opportunities, hardship, grief and disruption of relationships.
  • Young people tend to come for pregnancy testing and advice later than adults, which can result in less positive outcomes and fewer choices.
  • Teenagers' understanding (or misunderstanding) of how their parents will take their choice, can have a very real effect on decision making. It is important to talk things through with your daughter or son openly to clear up any misunderstandings they may have about what you really think.

Issues for parents

Parents may have many anxieties which arise out of concern for their daughter (or son).

  • Parents may experience shock, disappointment, anxiety, anger and sometimes a sense of guilt or responsibility.
  • There may be a loss of their dreams for their daughter (or son).
  • Some of the choices available could go against parents' values.
  • If their daughter does not tell them for a long time, there can be considerable disappointment that she feared their response so much.
  • There may be concerns about what friends and other family members think.

Major life events do not just disappear, and whatever the decision there may be doubts and sadness for some time.

  • They may also get a great deal of pleasure from their new grandchild!

Young men and pregnancy

Young men often receive blame but little information, counselling and support. Young men may need help to accept and support the young woman's right to decide the outcome of the pregnancy, and what her choice means for the father.

  • They may need support to talk about their reaction to the pregnancy, how they feel about future involvement, dealing with family and friends' responses.
  • If the young woman decides to keep the baby it raises the issues of what involvement  the father wants and his legal responsibilities to help support his baby.
  • If the father's name is on the birth certificate, or if he is presumed to be the father (eg because he and the young woman were living together), then he will be liable to help support the baby financially. 
  • If a young man does not believe he is the father, he would need to get legal advice, eg in South Australia from the Legal Services Commission ph: 8205 0155.
  • It is possible to have a DNA test to check if someone is the father of a particular baby.  This is done on blood (or other body tissues) from the man, the baby and preferably the mother as well.  The test can be done at any age and is now very accurate. He would need to talk with his doctor to find out how to do this.
  • Many young men may need information about contraception.

Resources

South Australia

Reference

South Australian Health Department - Pregnancy Outcome Unit 'Pregnancy outcomes in South Australia 2009'

back to top

The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

Home › Health Topics › Safety & First Aid >