8.3.1  How old is she?

Pregnancy can cause problems for women of any age. But very young women and much older women tend to have more problems.

Girls who become pregnant before they are 17 years old may not have finished growing themselves. A girl’s pelvis might not be grown enough to give birth normally. Girls are more likely to have other problems too — like pre-eclampsia (see Box 8.2), long labours, and babies born too early. Girls who get pregnant when they are very young can be wonderful and caring mothers, but many of them will need extra advice and support.

It may be safer for older women and very young women to give birth in a well-equipped health facility rather than at home.

Older mothers may also have more problems in pregnancy and birth.

Box 8.2  Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia is a serious condition characterised by high blood pressure (hypertension), swelling of the hands, feet and even the face, and significant amounts of protein in the urine (proteinuria). It usually develops in the last 3 months of pregnancy. Women with this condition feel very unwell, often reporting severe headaches, nausea and vomiting.

Important!If you suspect a pregnant woman may be developing pre-eclampsia you should refer her to the nearest health facility immediately.

If untreated, pre-eclampsia can progress to eclampsia, in which all of the above symptoms worsen and the woman develops mental confusion, visual disturbances and convulsions (fits). Eclampsia is life-threatening for the woman and her unborn baby.

A woman having a convulsion due to eclampsia

Eclampsia, pre-eclampsia, and other types of diseases due to high blood pressure, are known as hypertensive disorders of pregnancy; they are discussed in detail in Study Session 19.

8.3  Identifying possible risk factors in pregnancy

8.3.2  How many children has she had?