Most women are able to become pregnant from puberty, when their menstrual cycles begin.
Pregnancy happens when a male sperm fertilises a female egg during sex. A girl can get pregnant after she has started puberty, usually after her first period (menstruation), if she has sex without contraception. If you don’t want to get pregnant, and you’re thinking of having sex, make sure you have contraception ready.
Getting a pregnancy test and next steps
Missing a period is a sign that you may be pregnant. If you think you might be pregnant, get a pregnancy test from your health centre or pharmacy. You can take one from the first day of a missed period.
If your pregnancy test is positive, make an appointment at your health centre. If you hadn’t planned to get pregnant, it can feel very scary but they can provide advice on the options available
Risks of adolescent pregnancy:
Young girls are at higher risk of complications during pregnancy because they are not fully developed, and their bodies may not be ready to handle pregnancy or to give birth .
Young mothers may face problems such as: obstructed labour, long labour, anaemia, pre-eclampsia or hypertension during pregnancy, consequences of unsafe abortion, spontaneous abortion, still birth, and premature birth.
Adolescents younger than 17 often have not reached physical maturity and their pelvises may be too narrow to accommodate a baby’s head
Pregnancy often means the end of formal education for girls, as they may be expelled from school when they become pregnant
Adolescent pregnancy changes a girl’s career options, her future opportunities and may limit her marriage choices. Unmarried mothers sometimes have to take low paid and risky jobs, or become sex workers to support their children
Sometimes the adolescent’s partner refuses to take responsibility for the pregnancy, which makes things much harder for the young mother and child
Young parents are often not ready to raise a child which, in extreme cases, can lead to problems like child abuse or neglect
Early marriages that happen because of an unplanned pregnancy are often unhappy and unstable
Having a healthy pregnancy
There are many things that you can do to have a healthy pregnancy.
Your doctor will give ante-natal care (ANC) appointments to monitor your weight, blood pressure, measure the baby’s growth and to test for HIV and common problems during pregnancy. It is very important to attend all your ANC appointments. If you test positive for HIV, you’ll be started on anti-retroviral treatment (ART) to keep you healthy and reduce the risk of passing HIV on to your baby.
You can also make changes to your lifestyle to stay healthy. You should stop smoking and avoid drinking alcohol when you’re pregnant as they can harm your unborn baby and lead to long-term harm. Eating a healthy, balanced diet and doing regular moderate exercise helps keeps you healthy and prevents too much weight gain.
You will also be advised to take a daily folic acid supplement until you’re 12 weeks pregnant to reduce the risk of conditions like spina bifida.
After you’ve had your baby, make sure to go to your follow up appointments to check your health and get the support you need, and so that your baby can be weighed, monitored and get all their vaccinations. If you are living with HIV your baby will also need to be tested for HIV.
Being a young parent comes with unique challenges. Learn more about caring for your mental health as a young parent.