Pregnancy Basics: Planned and Unplanned Pregnancy

Pregnancy Basics_ Planned and Unplanned Pregnancy

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Each year, millions of college-aged students become pregnant in the United States. Of these pregnancies, some are planned and celebrated, while others are not. Pregnancy may be a welcomed, confusing, unpleasant, or even a traumatic surprise. If you find yourself pregnant or are supporting someone who is, there is help and there are resources to help you navigate this big change.


Each year, millions of college-aged students become pregnant in the United States. Of these pregnancies, some are planned and celebrated, while others are not. Pregnancy may be a welcomed, confusing, unpleasant, or even a traumatic surprise

Approximately 1 in 14 of women aged 18-19, and about 1 in 8 of women between 20-24 years old become pregnant each year, and of those, more than half are unintended pregnancies. For some, learning you are pregnant is cause for celebration and joy!  For others, it is more complicated and may bring confusion, fear, shock, ambivalence, anger and/or dread. There is no right or wrong way to feel, and finding a trusted person to talk to about your pregnancy and your feelings might help you sort through the many thoughts and feelings that can arise. A trusted family member, friend, mentor, advisor, counselor, midwife, doula, doctor, clergy or spiritual guide may be a good place to start.

If you find yourself pregnant or are supporting someone who is, there is help and there are resources to help you navigate this big change.

Facing Unintended Pregnancy

When facing a surprise, unintended, or unwanted pregnancy, you may know what you want to do right away, or may need a period of time to consider your options.

Finding support to navigate these decisions for yourself can be challenging and overwhelming. Having information about your options, and knowing where your supports are is crucial no matter what you choose. If you can’t find someone locally to help you navigate these decisions, you can find free talk lines online to discuss your emotions and options with.

While abortion is a topic that is politically and emotionally charged for many people, 24% of women will have an abortion by the age of 45. One-quarter to one-third of pregnancies among 18-24-year-olds end in abortion. There are private and non-profit clinics and pregnancy care centers near many colleges and universities that offer counseling, resources, and support. It’s important to know that some centers are explicitly against abortion, but they will provide support for pregnancy care, preparing for parenthood, and exploring adoption.

Pregnancy and Parenting in College

Pregnancy & Prenatal Care

Finding medical care and mental health care during pregnancy is important, regardless of other choices you make about your pregnancy. Making an appointment with your college health center, local health clinic, or with a trusted care provider is important to care for your own health during pregnancy. Taking care of yourself while pregnant means staying hydrated, avoiding drugs and alcohol, making sure you’re getting adequate nutrition and adequate sleep, as well as getting consistent health care for yourself. There are some medications and foods that are not safe for pregnancy. Your mood can change in pregnancy due to fluctuations and changes in hormones and experiences, so talking to a counselor or mental health professional, especially one who focuses on pregnancy and perinatal health, can be supportive.

Pregnancy may cause changes in your energy levels, and you may experience nausea or “morning sickness” and feel differences in your ability to study or focus. You may want to make adjustments to your schedule or your commitments to take care of your body during this time. It’s important to find a medical care provider (midwife, OBGYN, or family doctor) to help you best care for yourself and plan for your birth starting during the first weeks or months of your pregnancy.

Pregnancy and Parenting in College

Over five million college students are pregnant or raising children, but many colleges do not have adequate resources for supporting students through pregnancy, birth, and parenting children. There are federal laws that are designed to protect pregnant, breastfeeding, and parenting students from discrimination, and you cannot legally be penalized or lose scholarships or opportunities due to pregnancy.  

Every college should have a Title IX Coordinator that can help if you are experiencing discrimination or difficulty finding support or resources. Finding ways to adjust your schedule, take more online classes, take some time off if desired during pregnancy or after birth, locating childcare and housing, and other support may be helpful to balance pregnancy and parenting with your educational and work goals. 

There is more information about supports, Title IX, and being a pregnant student or scholar at www.thepregnantscholar.org and at the links in the references. You can find mental health support during pregnancy by seeking out a therapist specializing in perinatal health, a doula, or midwife who can help connect you to resources and support. 

Scholarly Sources

Affordable Colleges Online.  (2021, July 26). Pregnancy in College.  Retrieved September 10, 2021, 

Don, K.  (2017, January 17).  The Number of College-aged Pregnant Women is Down. Romper.  Retrieved September 10, 2021, https://www.romper.com/p/how-many-college-aged-women-get-pregnant-every-year-numbers-are-down-30808

Finer, L.B., & Zolna, M.R. (2016).  Declines in unintended pregnancy in the United States, 2008-2011.  New England Journal of Medicine, 374: 843-852. Doi: 10.1056/NEJMsa1506575

Guttmacher Institute. (2019, January). Unintended Pregnancy in the United States.  Retrieved September 9, 2021, https://www.guttmacher.org/report/us-adolescent-pregnancy-trends-2013

Hopkins, Katy.  (2011, March 23).  Child-Friendly College Programs for Parents.  U.S. News & World Report.  Retrieved September 10, 2021, https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2011/03/23/child-friendly-college-programs-for-parents

Institute for Women’s Policy Research. (2014, November).  Fact Sheet: 4.8 Million College Students Are Raising Children.  Retrieved September 9, 2021, 


Manze, M., Watnick, D., & Freudenberg, N. (2021) How do childcare and pregnancy affect the academic success of college students?, Journal of American College Health, DOI: 10.1080/07448481.2021.1895174

Nadworny, E. (2019, May 2). ‘Do They Kick Out Pregnant People?’ Navigating College With Kids. [Radio broadcast transcript]  National Public Radio. https://www.npr.org/2019/05/02/716123170/do-they-kick-out-pregnant-people-navigating-college-with-kids

Oswalt, S. B., Eastman-Mueller, H. P., & Baldwin, A. (2021). Counseling college students after a positive pregnancy test: Trends in practice. Journal of American college health : J of ACH, 69(2), 227–231. https://doi.org/10.1080/07448481.2019.1657120

Planned Parenthood.  (n.d.) Considering Abortion.  Retrieved September 10, 2021, 


The Pregnant Scholar Website.  (n.d).  Retrieved September 10, 2021,  https://thepregnantscholar.org/

Story, W.A.  (1999). The effects of unplanned pregnancy among college women.  [Masters Thesis, Virginia Tech University]. ETDs: Virginia Tech Electronic  Theses and Dissertations. https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/31856

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights. (2013). Supporting the Academic Success of Pregnant and Parenting Students: Under Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972.  Retrieved September 9, 2021, 


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