Weight management, proper nutrition and physical activity are challenging for most of us – but are especially complicated issues for pregnant and parenting adolescents. At an age when they are still struggling with body image the idea of weight gain with pregnancy can be frightening. With fad diets, fast food, and a general aversion to vegetables common among many adolescents, pregnant and parenting teens may find eating healthy to be one more “thing” that sets them apart from their peers.
Poverty and access to nutritious food may be an additional complication for many teen moms. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, better known as “WIC”, provides a solution for low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5. The program provides access to not only nutritious foods, but also information on healthy eating and referrals to health care. Dads can apply for WIC benefits for their children, so it’s worth mentioning to teen dads too.
WIC offers a valuable resource for adolescent mothers, who as teens, are more likely to have deficiencies in: Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Vitamins A, B6, Riboflavin, and Folic Acid. Deficiencies can make it even harder for adolescents to have enough of the nutrients they need to help ensure a healthy baby and delivery. Nutritional recommendations for pregnant adolescents include supplements for iron, calcium, B6, C and folate.
While limited research is available on appropriate weight gain among pregnant adolescents, current guidelines recommend the same gain as older woman – with the higher end of the range being appropriate for teens. For a woman at a healthy weight before pregnancy their weight gain should be between 25-35 pounds, if they were underweight their weight gain should be between 30-40 pounds, and if overweight their weight gain should be between 15-25 pounds.
Physical activity guidelines remain the same for all adolescents – yet, parenting adolescents may find it challenging to “find the time” for physical activity between school, work, and their many new responsibilities. Rather than giving the adolescent a “list” of ways they can work exercise into their daily routine – it may be helpful to ask them to think of what activities they like to do, and problem-solve with them realistic scenarios to create and achieve exercise goals. Teens should consider things such as: would the baby be included, would childcare be required, what would they do if they are feeling tired or the baby is fussy. As with any exercise routine, starting in small, achievable steps is more likely to lead to a sustained routine.