Some ways to encourage teen moms to breastfeed:
Suggest that she try breastfeeding for a few days or weeks. This may encourage her to breastfeed when she might otherwise never even start. Unless she brings up how long she plans to nurse, you might want to avoid discussing long-term commitments to breastfeeding. Avoid being judgmental.
Teens accept advice more readily from peers than adults. If you know a teen mom who is successfully breastfeeding, see if you can get her together with the mom-to-be.
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Be enthusiastic about breastfeeding. Teens are more likely to be attracted to enthusiastic people (someone older may see lots of enthusiasm as being somewhat suspect).
Focus on the advantages for the mother NOW, rather than advantages that will show up sometime on the future. Talking about future health benefits for mom and baby may fall on deaf ears.
Following are some benefits that are likely to interest a teen mom:
- Breastfeeding helps mom lose weight faster without restricting calories. The uterus gets back into shape after birth faster if you breastfeed, thus helping mom get back into shape faster.
- Mom’s period comes back later when she breastfeeds.
- Breastfeeding saves time and can make your life easier. You don’t have to prepare and clean bottles. Once mom and baby get the hang of it, mom can breastfeeding and sleep at the same time, breastfeeding and eat at the same time, breastfeeding and talk on the phone at the same time, etc. Breastfeeding also makes things like going out with baby, teething, and baby’s illnesses easier to handle.
- You will cancel fewer social events and miss less school/work due to a sick baby.
- Breastfeeding is free and saves you money on doctor bills.
- Breastfed babies are more intelligent and healthier.
- Breastfeeding is “green” – it’s better for the environment.
- You are the only one who can do this. Breastfeeding moms tend to have more confidence in their parenting skills and a greater sense of power over their own lives, which is sometimes hard to find when you’re a teen mom. Many a new teen mom (particularly if she’s living at home) is worried that her mother (the grandmother) will become more the mother to this baby than she will be.
Encourage mom to attend a LLL meeting (or any breastfeeding support group) with her best friend. She might even introduce her friend at the meeting as the baby’s new “aunt” or “godmother.” Many teen moms lose their closest friends as time for the baby arrives. Either the friends are normally moving on to other aspects of life (school, college, jobs) or they just can’t relate and feel uncomfortable. Taking a friend to the meeting helps keep mom (or mom-to-be) from feeling overwhelmed, and the friend is included as baby’s aunt and feels more involved and more apt to stay in touch.
Give teen moms extra breastfeeding support when they are in the hospital at birth because many are undecided about breastfeeding right up to the day of delivery.
Some of the incorrect things that teen moms have usually heard about breastfeeding that you may need to address:
- Breastfeeding hurts
- Breastfeeding will ruin breast shape and size
- You need big breasts to breastfeed
- Breastfeeding will tie you down
Teen moms (even more than older moms) are often afraid of being ridiculed if they nurse in public. She may worry about what baby’s father’s friends (and baby’s father) will think about her breastfeeding. Talk to her about how to nurse discreetly so that no one knows you are nursing.
Studies say that normally the biggest factor as to whether or not a teen mom will breastfeed or continue to breastfeed is whether or not the father of her baby approves. Some benefits that Dad might like:
- There’s no preparation, no heating, no bottles or dishes to wash
- It’s free–formula isn’t cheap
- Diapers don’t stink–breastfed babies produce stool that smells almost sweet–especially when you compare it to the formula-fed kind.
A lot of reading can overwhelm a teen mom, so pamphlets or videos are often best as information sources.
Many teen moms will be going to school or working after the birth of her baby. Let her know that it is possible to work or go to school while continuing to breastfeed. Even if she doesn’t want to pump, breastfeeding is not “all or nothing” – she can nurse her baby when they are together and supplement when she is away.
Young mothers are often told they are too young to be a mother and that they don’t “know” enough to be mothers – breastfeeding is something they can do, and do well. Also, teen moms who breastfeed tend to get more hands-on contact with their baby – teen moms who bottle-feed can be pushed aside as the significant person in their baby’s life by well-meaning in-laws or mothers who really don’t think that mom can handle the baby alone.
Lesson plans and infomation on working with teens
- Benefits of Breastfeeding – Class for Teens @KellyMom
- Lesson plan: Teen breastfeeding – Starting Out Right from the Texas Department of Health WIC
- Better Breastfeeding: A Guide for Teen Parents (clips from video)
- Teen Parents: Straddling the Worlds of Adolescence and Parenthood by by Jeanne Warren Lindsay, from the June 2000 issue of the International Jounal of Childbirth Education
- Ineichen B, Pierce M, Lawrenson R. Teenage mothers as breastfeeders: attitudes and behaviour. J Adolesc 1997 Oct;20(5):505-9
Resources for teens
- I’m a Pregnant Teenager and I’m Thinking About Breastfeeding my Baby by Serena Meyer at NativeMothering.com
- For Teen Mothers: What Breastfeeding Is Like in the First Days by Jacqueline Levine LCCE, FACCE, CD(DONA), CLC at Breastfeeding USA
- For Teens: Going Back to School and Breastfeeding! by Jacqueline Levine LCCE, FACCE, CD(DONA), CLC at Breastfeeding USA