As a doula, you are a professional resource in the birth community. As doulas, we serve parents from all demographics. Doula support for teen parents is something all doulas should be familiar with. While teen pregnancy rates have dropped in recent years, the rate is not zero.
As doulas, we know every birthing person deserves adequate support, respect and autonomy during pregnancy and birth. However, we also know that disparities in care exist for a variety of reasons, sometimes including disparities in teen care.
When providing doula support for teen parents, it is important to be aware of certain things to help provide them with adequate and respectful support.
Doula Support For Teen Parents
The most important thing to remember when working with teen parents is that they are individuals just like all your clients. It is helpful to use questionnaires, open conversations, etc., to avoid making assumptions or generalizations.
Just as each thirty-year-old client you serve is unique, so is each teen parent you serve.
There will be somethings which are unique to teen parents such as:
- Increased risk of certain complications due to their physiological development
- Potential challenges with balancing pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and pre-college level schooling
- In rare circumstances, social services may be involved if the teen is younger than the age of consent in your state
Build Confidence and Open Communication
As a doula, one of the most important parts of our work is building our clients’ confidence in giving birth. We also build their confidence in trusting their body, trusting instincts, and knowing the right of autonomy during pregnancy and birth.
It is not uncommon for teen parents to report feeling talked down to, ignored, or not respected during prenatal and birth care. While this sadly occurs with many pregnant people, teens are more likely to be treated poorly during pregnancy. Whether by community, health professionals, or family, there are times people attach morals to pregnancy and consciously or subconsciously treat pregnant teens poorly.
As doulas, we must never be part of putting down any client. In fact, professionally it is our role to build up our clients. We are to encourage them to speak up for themselves.
It is also important for us to help clients develop open communication with their providers. One great thing is to teach and remind them of the BRAIN acronym.
- Benefit – what is the benefit for me? For baby?
- Risk – What is the risk to me? To baby?
- Alternatives – what alternatives do we have?
- Intuition – What’s my gut feeling?
- Nothing – What happens if we do nothing?
This simple acronym is a great way to encourage open communication.
Pregnant Teens May Experience More Complications Than Fully Developed Adults
While teens have given birth for millennia, that does not lessen the known risks of birthing before full development. Certainly, teen is a wide age-range, from thirteen to nineteen. A thirteen-year old’s risk is very different than a fully developed 17-, 18- or 19-year-old. However, depending on some factors, even older teens can face risks due to social determinants of health.
“Adolescents are at increased risk for low-birth-weight babies, high blood pressure in pregnancy, preeclampsia, higher complications from sexually transmitted diseases, and increased rate of infant death,” said Dr. Anne Waldrop, a maternal-fetal medicine fellow at Stanford University.
As a doula, we remain non-clinical. However, we can provide general education and encourage clients to remain in contact with their providers. We can discuss optimal nutrition, stress management, and refer as needed for resources.
We can also provide information about the signs and symptoms of high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, and preterm labor. The sooner one is in contact with their health provider when complications arise, often the more options they have for managing such conditions.
We should be offering education on these topics for all our clients, regardless of their age. However, as a doula it can be helpful to know which of our clients may be at increased risk for certain complications so we can tailor additional education to meet their needs.
Birth Doula Support For Teen Parents
Physiological birth is a process which often unfolds quite well. This is even the case among teen parents. However, for young teens who are not yet fully developed, there can be some risks during birth. It is a balance to provide appropriate support, encouraging understanding of normal physiological birth, alongside encouraging clients to have open communication with their providers.
There may be situations, just like with all clients, where a doctor may jump to interventions “just in case” based on potential risk factors versus specific circumstances. However, we must remember we are not medical providers.
As birth doulas we can:
- Encourage clients to choose care providers they truly trust
- Help clients become educated about their birth options
- Support them in developing birthing plans and preferences, while providing evidenced-based information
- Educate them about birth interventions and how to make informed decisions
- Provide non-judgmental support
- Give support which helps them to have a positive birth experience by feeling heard, cared about, and safe, regardless of how birth unfolds.
We can also help prepare our clients for a healthy postpartum experience and safe newborn care experience. As with all clients, the prental period can include evidenced-based information and resources about breastfeeding, infant feeding and care, and safe infant sleep.