Reliable Information for Pregnant Teens

Date: October 9th, 2015

Guest Blog Post by Jennifer Lemons

pregnant teenIt was the longest three minutes of her life. As she opened her eyes to glance at the test, her heart stopped. She couldn’t breathe. Frantically, she tore open the instructions that came with the test to confirm what she already knew. She was pregnant. She laid her head on the bathroom stall, tears threatening to fall. It was then that the bell rang, signaling the end of lunch. It was time to go to class. But all she could think was, “I’m 16…”

A teen pregnancy raises a myriad of emotions and thoughts, from the most practical of, “How am I going to finish school?” or “What will my parents think?” to the more profound, “Should I keep it?” or “Could I have harmed the baby somehow?”

When trying to answer these questions, it should come as no surprise that adolescents are at a high risk for receiving misinformation from many sources, i.e. the internet, friends and media. As a certified genetic counselor at MotherToBaby, this concerns me greatly—for  mom’s sake, as well as baby’s. When somehow that mom-to-be lands on the other end of my phone line, in my office, or on the other end of an email, I am relieved. She’s found a trustworthy resource available for pregnant teens to help them answer these important, and potentially life-changing, questions.

MotherToBaby, a service of the nonprofit Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), provides the most up-to-date, evidence-based information to mothers, health care professionals, and the general public about potentially harmful exposures, like alcohol, drugs and medications, during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Each question that MotherToBaby receives is researched by a professional like me.  From questions about bug repellant to illegal drug use, MotherToBaby has seen it all! So, what are some of the most common questions I get from young moms?

“Can I drink any alcohol at all during my pregnancy?” No amount of alcohol is considered safe during pregnancy. And babies exposed to large amounts of alcohol at one time (i.e., binge drinking) and/or frequently throughout a pregnancy may be at risk for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Babies with FASD may have one or more of the following: birth defects, intellectual disabilities, learning disorders, and/or behavioral problems.

“Why can’t I smoke cigarettes while I am pregnant?” There are over 4,000 chemicals and toxins in cigarette smoke. Several of these can cross the placenta and decrease the amount of oxygen and nutrients available to baby. Studies on smoking during pregnancy have shown an increased risk of cleft lips in newborns, as well as a higher chance for preterm delivery, low-birth weight, or miscarriage. Long-term effects have included a higher risk for childhood asthma, bronchitis, and respiratory infections, as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It’s never too late to quit smoking—even reducing the number of cigarettes smoked per day will help!

“I’ve heard it is OK to smoke marijuana during pregnancy. Is this true?” There is conflicting information available about the effects of marijuana on a pregnancy. While some recent studies have shown that it has not been associated with an increased risk for birth defects or complications, there are not enough data available to say this with 100% confidence.

“I’ve used methamphetamines in the past. Is this OK to use now and then while I am pregnant?” Methamphetamines (meth) should not be used at any point during pregnancy.  Meth use has been associated with an increased risk of miscarriage or premature delivery. Meth use later in pregnancy has also been associated with babies experiencing withdrawal symptoms after being born.  Currently, there are not enough data to know whether meth use during pregnancy increases the risk of birth defects.

There’s no doubt the road ahead will be filled with many more questions for a young parent, but I’d like to think receiving reliable information about exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding will be the start of an important support system she builds for herself.

Have you ever had anyone disclose a concern about an exposure during pregnancy to you? If so, tell us about it.

About Us

MotherToBaby aims to provide the most up-to-date, personalized information for each question we receive. Contacting MotherToBaby is easy! Either call the main line at (866) 626-6847, text us questions at (855) 999-3525, email or instant message us through our website,  Also, we have a library of fact sheets describing the most common exposures.

About The Author

Jennifer Lemons, MS, CGC, MotherToBaby Texas TIPS, is a certified genetic counselor and clinical instructor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Genetics at the University of Texas Medical School. In addition to providing telephone teratogen counseling for MotherToBaby TexasTIPS, she provides genetic counseling services at the Gulf States Hemophilia and Thrombophilia Center in Houston. Special thanks to Meagan Giles, a 2nd year genetic counseling student with the University of Texas Genetic Counseling Program, who also contributed information to this blog.

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