Should an adolescent give birth naturally? 

Not every person or pregnancy is the same, so it won't always be safe for a pregnant teenager to give birth naturally. This is a choice that needs to be made on a case-by-case basis.
Not every person or pregnancy is the same, so it won’t always be safe for a pregnant teenager to give birth naturally. This is a choice that needs to be made on a case-by-case basis.

From a biological perspective, 17-year-olds are perfectly capable of having a natural birth. 

There are many different teenage pregnancy labor and delivery options. With proper medical approval and guidance, choosing a natural birth can be a safe option that’ll produce a healthy baby. 

Not every person or pregnancy is the same, so it won’t always be safe for a pregnant teenager to give birth naturally. This is a choice that needs to be made on a case-by-case basis. Consult your health care provider to help decide if this is the best option for you. 

While making your decision, keep in mind that there are few added health risks to a natural birth if the pregnancy is otherwise healthy and uncomplicated. 

Pain medications — like epidurals — can even lead to problems of their own, like lowering your blood pressure or making you nauseous while you try to deliver.

So a natural birth could be the healthiest choice. In fact, some of the adverse effects of teen parenting come from a lack of empowerment in their pregnancy and low levels of connection to their child — problems that natural childbirth tries to address.

What is natural birth? 

Expectant mothers decide between a handful of birthing strategies, and an increasing number of them are choosing to have a natural birth.

Although there’s no one right way to have a natural birth, there are some practices that are common to all of them. These include: 

  • Not using any medications in the labor and delivery process — including pain medications like epidurals
  • Letting the mother guide the birthing process
  • Avoiding artificial medical interventions during birth — like an episiotomy, in which there isn’t enough room for the baby, so the tissue between the vagina and anus is cut

The exception to these requirements is when the situation becomes life-threatening for either the mother or the child. In this case, medical intervention is necessary.

In fact, the main situation in which natural births become dangerous is when the mother ignores medical advice and continues to attempt a natural birth despite serious complications.

Part of the goal of natural childbirth is to empower the mother and give her more control over the birthing process. In natural birth, the mother is encouraged to let her body and baby guide her through the birth.

Does teen pregnancy have added risks?

Teenage or adolescent pregnancy includes girls who are 13 to 19 years old. Studies have found that teenage labor and delivery can come with added risks compared to women who are at least 20 years old. 

When you’re under 20, you and your baby are at a greater risk for:

Some of the greatest risks from teen pregnancies come from not getting medical attention early on. This could be because the teen is trying to hide the pregnancy. If you are a pregnant teen, be sure to get medical attention as soon as you realize that you’re pregnant. 

Community health facilities and programs like Planned Parenthood are there to help you — so don’t hesitate to seek support. Hesitation only puts you and your baby at a greater risk.

Where should you give birth? 

Your home could be a safe place to give birth, but there currently isn’t enough scientific data to confirm this. 

Luckily, natural births no longer need to happen outside of medical settings. Birthing centers are becoming more common around the U.S. These facilities provide some medical staff — like certified midwives and registered nurses — but leave the mother with space to give birth her own way. 

Many modern hospitals now include wings where mothers can give birth naturally while still having access to high-tech equipment — in case anything goes wrong. 

Ultimately, you need to decide on the facility that’s best for you. Teenagers, though, should strongly consider having a good medical support team on hand. Younger teens, in particular, are encouraged to use a facility that can handle any emergency situation.

Lifestyle changes

Anything that decreases your risk of pregnancy complications also increases the chance that you’ll be healthy enough to have a natural birth. So make sure you live your healthiest life while pregnant.

Positive lifestyle recommendations include: 

  • No smoking: Smoking will increase your risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and sudden infant death syndrome. It can also affect your baby’s birth weight. 
  • No drinking alcohol: Alcohol can lead to mental and physical birth defects — particularly when consumed early on in the pregnancy. 
  • Limiting your caffeine intake: Experts recommend having the equivalent of only one cup of coffee a day, around 200 milligrams of caffeine
  • No drug use: Some drugs are associated with infant death. 
  • Getting enough sleep: Pregnancy can be exhausting, so make sure you get enough rest to keep yourself and your baby at your best.
  • Avoiding unsafe sex: You can still get sexually transmitted diseases while pregnant, and some of these could infect your baby. 

Talk to your health care provider for other tips on how to stay healthy while pregnant. They can also help you quit smoking or quit other substances if this is an issue for you.

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Nutritional recommendations

Teenagers tend to have less balanced diets than other age groups. But nutrition is crucial for your baby’s development. Proper nutrition from the very beginning of your pregnancy will decrease the risk of complications later on. 

In general, avoid fast food. Stick to fruits, vegetables, and whole grains instead.

In particular, make sure you get enough of the nutrients that your baby needs to properly develop. These include: 

  • Folic acid — from foods like leafy green vegetables, peas, and fortified cereals
  • Protein — from peanut butter, fish, poultry, beans, egg whites, and more 
  • Calcium — your main source is dairy products
  • Iron — from lean red meats and spinach

Weight gain is normal, and it’s a sign of a healthy pregnancy. Teens might struggle with their body image during pregnancy. But you shouldn’t try strict, calorically limited diets or try to exercise excessively since these activities can harm your baby.

Can you change your mind about natural birth? 

There’s always a chance that you’ll change your mind about pain medication once you actually go into labor. Don’t be upset or disappointed with yourself — plenty of women make the same choice.

Also, it’s far more important for you to be open and flexible during the birthing process rather than stubbornly sticking to a set plan. Birth is unpredictable, and any number of complications could arise. 

Of course, you should decide on the delivery that you want with your family and birthing team. Just keep in mind that it's normal for these plans to change. 

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Medically Reviewed on 5/2/2022
References
SOURCES:

Harvard Health Publishing: "Where is best for birth: Hospital or home?"

The Journal of Perinatal Education: "'I Managed It Pretty Good': Birth Narratives of Adolescent Mothers."

Nemours KidsHealth: "Natural Childbirth," "When Your Teen Is Having a Baby."

World Health Organization: "Adolescent pregnancy."