What you need to know about teen pregnancy
If you’re a teenager and are sexually active or thinking about having sex, you may be wondering how pregnancy happens and what you can do to prevent it. Or perhaps you think you or your partner may already be pregnant and you may feel scared, overwhelmed or worried about what to do. If so, you’re in the right place. Read on to learn how pregnancy occurs, how to prevent getting pregnant and what to do if you think you may be pregnant.
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What causes pregnancy?
During vaginal sex (where the penis enters the vagina), it’s possible for pregnancy to occur. It’s also possible to get pregnant if semen gets on the vulva or near the vagina.
For pregnancy to happen, sperm must meet an egg. Here’s how that works:
- In a biological male, sperm is made in the testicles and combines with other fluids to make semen, which is released from the penis during ejaculation.
- Eggs live in the ovaries of biological females. Each month during a menstrual cycle, a mature egg is released from the ovaries (this process is called ovulation). The egg travels through the fallopian tube to the uterus.
- If semen gets into the vagina, sperm can travel to the fallopian tubes and potentially fertilize the egg, which can lead to pregnancy.
- Sperm can live in a uterus and fallopian tubes for up to six days after sex, so fertilization can occur up to six days after sex.
- If the sperm fertilizes the egg, the fertilized egg will move into the uterus, where it divides into more cells and eventually attaches itself to the lining of the uterus. Once this happens, pregnancy officially starts.
If a fertilized egg implants itself in the uterus, this keeps the lining of the uterus from shedding, which is why periods stop while someone is pregnant.
Later in life, some adult couples may need some assistance from their medical team to have children on their own; there are still options for these couples. Doctors can help a pregnancy to occur via artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization (IVF).
How to prevent teen pregnancy
The only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy is to not engage in vaginal sex. The only 100% effective way to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is to not participate in sexual activity that involves skin-to-skin touching with another person or where body fluids are involved.
If you plan to have sex, it’s important to protect yourself and your partner from pregnancy and STIs. Use a condom to reduce your risk of pregnancy and STIs and another method to prevent pregnancy (like the pill, patch or an IUD). Learn about your contraception options.
Early signs of pregnancy
If you’re worried you or your partner may be pregnant, here are the most common early signs of pregnancy:
- Missing your period (some spotting could still occur and in rare cases, a menstrual cycle can continue during pregnancy)
- Feeling tired
- Nausea or throwing up
- Peeing more often than usual
- Swollen or tender breasts
- Aversions to certain foods
Sometimes, these symptoms are caused by premenstrual syndrome (PMS). To know for sure if you’re pregnant, you can take a home pregnancy test (which you can buy at most pharmacies or grocery stores or your local health department or Planned Parenthood clinic) or see your doctor to get tested.
What to do if you think you may be pregnant
If you’re a teen and think you or your partner may be pregnant, you may be feeling scared and overwhelmed. First, know that you’re not alone. Many other teens have felt the way you do and have been in your shoes.
- Seek support from an adult. Talk to a family member, teacher, school nurse, guidance counselor, coach or another trusted adult in your life.
- Get tested. Next, it’s important to find out if you’re pregnant or not. You can take a home pregnancy test or get tested at your doctor’s office, health department or local Planned Parenthood clinic. Bring a support person with you if you can.
- Be honest with your healthcare provider. You may feel awkward and that’s OK and totally normal. Your provider has seen and heard it all before, so feel free to ask questions and express your concerns.
- Know your rights. If you feel uncomfortable with your doctor or nurse, it’s OK to ask to see someone else or find another place to get care. You have a right to receive healthcare without judgment.
If you’re pregnant, your healthcare provider will discuss your options with you. And if you aren’t pregnant, you can talk about birth control options to reduce your chances of pregnancy.
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