How To Provide Support

Adolescent parents – and their babies – face a host of challenges. They are at higher risk for school failure, physical and/or mental illness and poverty. In addition, medical complications are higher for both baby and mother – with youngest teens at most risk.

And at a time when they need support the most, adolescent pregnancy can cause stress between the teen and their families – with reactions such as anger, denial, and guilt. These reactions can cause adolescents to feel alone, increasing the concern of mental health related issues and at-risk behaviors. 

Clinicians themselves can also have a difficult time separating personal values around teen parenting and sexual behaviors to provide supportive, impartial care.  Avoiding giving adolescents the perception of blaming, judgement, or condescension is key in both successfully connecting with, and caring for, parenting adolescents. 

Providers can play a critical role in supporting pregnant and parenting teens, teen fathers, and their extended families to ensure they receive the proper medical care, education, and emotional support they need. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) statement on Caring for Teenage Parents and Their Children provides evidence-based guidelines for clinicians:

  1. Provide continuity of care and a “medical home” for adolescent parents, as well as for their children
  2. Employ a multidisciplinary, coordinated approach to care and utilize community resources
  3. Promote breastfeeding 
  4. Provide contraceptive counseling during and after the pregnancy – emphasizing long-acting methods coupled with condom use
  5. Emphasize the importance of completing high school
  6. Encourage healthy lifestyle choices; provide information on the effect of maternal substance use and cigarette smoking on infant and child health
  7. Assess for risk of domestic violence during and after pregnancy
  8. Stress the importance of the adolescent parent caring for the child (even if other adults, such as grandparents, are involved in the caregiving)
  9. Adapt counseling to the developmental level of the adolescent
  10. Maintain a heightened sense of awareness to the development of both infant and adolescent parent
  11. Provide positive reinforcement for success

The AAP recommendations for clinicians caring for adolescent parents include providing anticipatory guidance and intensive instruction on issues such as:

  • basic self-care and care-giving skills
  • abstaining from the use of drugs, alcohol, and nicotine
  • infant care (including the stress associated with parenting), child development and discipline, and early childhood education

Use of community resources, support groups (in the office, clinic, or school setting), home visits, and the creative use of videos and the media are also recommended to support instruction and skill development on these topics. The AAP guidelines suggest the clinician can also serve as an advocate for the adolescent – providing praise for teens who successfully reach milestones (such as exhibiting healthy lifestyle or caregiving skills, or graduating high school) and by supporting the adolescent in navigating the school setting as a parent.