Breastfeeding is best for moms and babies, at least under most circumstances. I had a baby when I was 17 and I breastfed, but that’s not very common among teen moms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website reports that older women are significantly more likely to breastfeed their babies. There are numerous benefits for teen moms that breastfeed, however. So why don’t more teen moms choose to breastfeed? And how can they be encouraged to do so?
Benefits of Breastfeeding for Teen Moms
There are numerous benefits of breastfeeding, regardless of the age of the mother. For instance, the Baby Center website explains that breastfeeding helps reduce the risk of many common illnesses in infants, helps reduce the risk of food allergies in infants and helps protect babies from many illnesses later in life, including diabetes and some types of cancer. While moms of all ages want their babies to be healthy, teen moms in particular might appreciate the fact that healthy, breastfed babies will probably be less fussy than formula-fed babies. Teen moms with limited incomes will also appreciate the fact that they will be able to save on medical bills if their babies are healthier.
Moms that breastfeed report less stress than moms that bottle feed. Breastfeeding may even help reduce postpartum depression, at least in part because it stimulates the production of a hormone called oxytocin. While caring for a newborn can be stressful for moms of any age, teen moms may experience particularly high levels of stress due to lack of family support, lack of support from the baby’s father, financial difficulties, extremely demanding schedules including school and caring for a baby, and simply their maturity level.
Other benefits of breastfeeding that might be particularly helpful for teen moms include the fact that breastfeeding is much cheaper than feeding formula and that they won’t have to spend time sterilizing bottles and preparing formula, especially for middle-of-the-night feedings. While long-term health benefits of breastfeeding are certainly important, teen moms may be more interested in short-term benefits like these.
Barriers to Breastfeeding for Teen Moms
International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Kelly Bonyata says that the greatest barrier to breastfeeding for teen moms is disapproval from the fathers of their babies. Simply providing information on the benefits for both teen moms and dads can help overcome this barrier.
Other barriers include mistaken beliefs that breastfeeding is painful or causes misshapen or saggy breasts, concern about disapproval from peers, lack of role models and simply a lack of support. Again, providing information and reassurance can overcome help overcome these barriers.
Many teen moms go to school and/or work and they may not realize that they can still breastfeed. Schools and workplaces should support breastfeeding moms but providing breaks and a private area in which they can pump breast milk, if they choose to do so, but teen moms should also be informed that breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing. They can choose to breastfeed when they are with their babies and to have other caregivers supplement with formula when they are at school or work, if that works better for them.
Support for Breastfeeding Teen Moms
Introducing teen moms to other teen moms that breastfeed can be immensely helpful. Certified lactation consultant Kelly Bonyata also suggests referring teen moms to La Leche League or another breastfeeding support group and suggests teen moms take a friend with them to a support group meeting. Teen moms often find their friends drift away as they don’t have as much in common anymore when one of them is raising a baby and the other is not, but inviting a friend to go to a support group meeting with them is a way of keeping the relationship going. Kelly Bonyata suggests the teen mom introduce her friend as the baby’s “aunt” or godmother, a way of giving the friend special status and keeping her involved with both mom and baby.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding in the United States: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999-2006.
Baby Center. How Breastfeeding Benefits You and Your Baby.
Kelly Mom. Encouraging Teen Moms to Breastfeed.
Also by this contributor:
Benefits of Extended Breastfeeding
Herbs for Breastfeeding