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Are the Signs of Pregnancy Different for Teens?

Does Pregnancy Feel or Look Different in Teenaged Girls?


You hear about it in the news and wonder how it could happen. A teenaged girl gives birth unexpectedly and nobody, sometimes not even the girl herself, knew she was even pregnant. How is this possible? How can a pregnancy go unnoticed? Does pregnancy in teens feel or look differently than in grown women?

Pregnancy Symptoms in Teens

The symptoms of pregnancy are pretty standard regardless of age; missed periods, broadening of the midsection, soreness or tenderness of the breasts, nausea and vomiting, food cravings, mood swings, and of course, weight gain. It’s not that teens that get pregnant don’t have these symptoms; it’s that they fail to recognize them as signs of pregnancy.

Some teens cling to severely outdated myths when it comes to sex and pregnancy. As a result they don’t understand that their actions could lead to pregnancy. Over the years many teens have written in to Teen Advice with some shocking examples of sexual ignorance.

Dangerous Pregnancy Myths

When it comes to the subject of pregnancy, teens believe some pretty incredible things. Here are a few examples taken from emails to Teen Advice:
  • You can’t get pregnant until you are finished puberty
  • You can’t get pregnant until you have regular periods
  • You can’t get pregnant while you have your period
  • You can’t get pregnant if the guy pulls out before orgasm
  • You can’t get pregnant if you douche right after sex
  • You can’t get pregnant if you’ve been drinking or doing drugs
These pregnancy myths may seem ridiculous to some teens, but there are many teens out there who believe them. If a teenaged girl becomes sexually active without a proper sex education she will not only believe the erroneous or misleading things that she hears from peers but she will also lack a proper understanding of what it really means to be having sex.

How Biology Confuses Pregnant Teens

Basic biology is one reason some teens might miss the signs of their own pregnancy. Teens, especially younger teens, are already experiencing many changes in their body and the way that it functions. The early signs of pregnancy are easy to confuse with the normal changes that come with puberty.

Getting a period is a huge change for girls; you bleed, you bloat, you get cramps and nausea. Headaches and muscle tenderness can also be a part of the menstrual experience. These are some pretty drastic changes to deal with.

With this in mind, is it really so hard to see how a girl with little sex education would dismiss the early signs of pregnancy as more uncomfortable body changes? Understanding the changes that puberty brings is important but too many teens are sadly undereducated.

How Puberty Masks Pregnancy

The body changes of puberty can disguise a pregnancy in other ways as well. Growth patterns can mask the early stages of pregnancy. Teens grow in phases. They go through a chubby phase where they put on weight followed by a growth spurt where they get taller. This is such a common growth pattern in teens that sudden weight gain alone isn’t cause for alarm.

Since babies born to teens are often smaller than those born to adult women teen mothers may not show as soon or as much. A pregnant teen in denial may believe that she is just gaining a little bit of weight. She could hide the weight gain from others with baggier clothes. Weight gain in girls is a touchy subject so even once the weight gain is noticeable others may stay quiet.

Pregnant Teens Struggle With Denial

The biggest reason teens fail to notice a pregnancy, or notice it late in the pregnancy term, is denial. Too many teens believe that pregnancy just won’t happen to them. Many teens think they are too young to get pregnant. They think that because their body is still going through puberty they can't yet get pregnant. This can cause teens to act recklessly when it comes to having sex.

Access to Birth Control Is Important

Shame around using birth control adds to the problem. Many teens are too embarrassed to buy condoms or other over-the-counter birth control. They don’t want to tell their parents or risk having their parents stumble on the birth control.

Girls are often afraid to ask their doctor for the Pill. They worry that their doctor will tell their parents if they ask about the Pill or other birth control options. This is a valid worry in states where doctors are required to notify or even get consent from parents when their children seek birth control.

Sex Education Is Essential

Teens get pregnant the same way as adults, by having sex, and teens experience pregnancy in pretty much the same way. If teens are missing the signs of their pregnancy it is because they are misinformed or badly educated about sex.

Sex education doesn’t make teens become sexually active; biological urges and social pressure do that. Lecturing teens about the negative implications of being sexually active and preaching an abstinence only approach is missing the mark. Teens need to be taught to understand their bodies and their normal sexual urges. They need to be taught about protection from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. They need to be educated, not shamed, about sex.

Unwanted teen pregnancy will continue to be a problem as long as teens are kept in the dark about their bodies. As long as teens are taught that sex is a shameful act they will keep living in denial or trying to hide pregnancy when it happens. Education is the best prophylactic there is.

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