A child’s health is most vulnerable during the first 1 000 days of life. This period, from conception until a child’s second birthday, offers a unique window of opportunity to shape healthier and more prosperous futures.
According to the provincial department of health, the right decisions about nutrition, the environment, safety and support for the pregnant mother play a key role in determining baby’s future happiness and success
Often this is not the case with teenage pregnancies.
Registered nurse Sister Thalitha van Wyk says teenagers, specifically those under the age of 14 years, who fall pregnant often try to hide their pregnancies as long as possible as they fear the social stigma that goes with being pregnant at a young age.
This means they often miss out on vital antenatal care which is needed for the mother and her unborn child.
“Teenager mothers are often considered high risk because their bodies are not fully developed or entirely ready to bear a child. They are also prone to suffer from high blood pressure and preeclampsia” says Van Wyk. “In my opinion, a teenage pregnancy needs to be monitored more often than regular pregnancies to avoid conditions such as high blood pressure and preeclampsia from occurring. They also require more emotional support from us and their families which is also important for the growing baby.”
Visiting an antenatal clinic as soon as you know you are pregnant is essential. Anything which can cause harm to the mom, can harm the unborn baby physically and mentally, and must be avoided. Alcohol, smoking and ongoing stress experienced by the mother can affect the baby. Physical and emotional violence is very dangerous, and could lead to psychological damage or even a premature or stillbirth. A supportive family and friends can help ensure that mom has a healthy and peaceful pregnancy. The mental well-being of the mother deserves as much attention as the physical well-being.
“If you have missed more than one menstrual cycles it is best to visit a clinic and be examined. We are not here to judge teenagers who fall pregnant but rather offer them support and the best health care. Even if you have not told your parents or caregiver, you are welcome to visit a clinic alone and we can then discuss a way forward. Seeking antenatal care as early as possible is essential during all pregnancies,” Van Wyk advises.
Fransonique Landsman, a 14-year-old mother who fell pregnant after being sexually assaulted, says being pregnant at such a young age was not easy and she often experienced pain and discomfort.
“Being pregnant at such a young age is scary. I did not sleep due to constant body pains and I knew my body was not ready to bear a child,” says Fransonique.
Fransonique noticed something was different about her body when she started skipping her menstrual cycle and her breasts started getting bigger but she did not think she could be pregnant. Her mother also noticed these changes and they eventually found out she was five months pregnant.
“When I first found out I was pregnant, I was very sad. My mother and family gave me all the support I needed and this means a lot to me,” says Fransonique.
Her mother Cathline Landsman says that the pregnancy came as a shock to her and her family but she made a decision to support her daughter during the pregnancy.
She is grateful for Van Wyk who reached out to her daughter and offered her support and excellent health care. She advises young women to speak to their parents or caregivers if they suspect they are pregnant or if they have been sexually assaulted.
“I don’t advise any teenager to have a baby. I missed out on a lot of play time and socialising with my friends and I now have to juggle my school work and being a mother.
“While my daughter brings me joy, it is difficult and can be frustrating at times. If you are sexually active, make use of the family planning they offer at clinics,” advises Fransonique.
“We are happy to see that more teenagers are visiting our family for family planning. We have made this service more accessible by offering the service in the afternoon, making it easier for them to visit the clinic after school,” says Sr Van Wyk.
“If you have had unprotected sex please visit a clinic within three days to get a morning after pill, this has proven to be very effective. We offer many different family planning options and termination of pregnancy for those who are not ready to be a mother.”