Do Teen Moms have more difficulty Breastfeeding? Yes, they do and there’s a lot that we can do to help them.

I had a teenager at home, and no he didn’t have any children, but what I know from being the mom of a teen, is that they are NOT mini-adults. I also have amazing teenaged nieces that I see regularly, friends with interesting and unique teens and I care for many teen patients.

I have to remind myself that it’s perfectly normal and natural for teens to be mature and responsible one minute, then flaky and immature the next. They are still growing, changing, figuring out who they are, who they want to be and to make it even more challenging they’re dealing with enormous pressures at home, school, from friends and from themselves.

What if you’re a teen mom?  

What does that mean if you or someone you love is pregnant and happens to be a teen? To start, teen moms are overwhelmed with more challenges than moms who are older. It’s an understatement to say that this is not an easy road. Teen moms are at risk for not completing their high school education, they are much more likely to be under-employed for their entire adult life and their future is likely to be one of perpetual poverty.  It also means that this person who is trying to grow up themselves and figure things out now has the added responsibility of caring for a newborn 24/7.

It’s even more difficult for teens

Many of my patients, who are college educated, in a stable relationship with a partner and have a job feel completely overwhelmed with a new baby. Imagine being a teen mom who probably can’t count on the baby’s father for emotional or financial support, may have a strained relationship with her own parents and is sleep deprived and overwhelmed.  Then, she has to figure out how to care for and feed her baby.

Is exclusive breastfeeding realistic for teens?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 to 12 months of life for all babies. We want to promote exclusive breastfeeding in all moms and especially in teens and yet, there are unique challenges.

They have a higher risk of delivering prematurely which means their babies need colostrum and breast milk to help with their immune system and their development.  It can be frustrating for health care providers who are working with teen moms, because they may not see the benefit of attending breastfeeding classes, learning how to pump and getting the baby to latch on every 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

What health care providers need to know

The clinicians who have the most success helping teen moms breastfeed find that the following works best.

  • Start wherever she is 
  • Offer classes and lots of repetition of information
  • Involve the father and/or family if possible
  • Find out her motivations
  • Leave behind any “All or Nothing” thinking  
  • Be encouraging and validating that any breastfeeding is good breastfeeding

Anyone who gets overwhelmed or discouraged may decide that it’s too difficult to meet another person’s expectations and then give up. This is especially true for teens. 

Encouraging teen moms to breastfeed as much as possible and utilize pumped milk or formula in between is helpful.  Education, support and plugging them into resources that they can drop in and use is essential as well as any phone support that’s available.

For any mom who needs help with Breastfeeding, there’s more information and helpful tips in my award-winning Personal Guide to Breastfeeding:

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