Adolescent Mothers' Breastfeeding Success and Barriers

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Adolescent mothers in North Carolina initiate breastfeeding nearly half of the time, but only one in four breastfeed longer than a month, according to a 2011 study in the International Breastfeeding Journal.

Researchers in North Carolina tracked breastfeeding initiation and discontinuation rates for adolescent mothers between 2000 and 2005 and also in 2007. Teenagers between 13 and 17 years of age initiated breastfeeding 52% of the time, but half weaned before their infants turned one month old.

Breastfeeding initiation and success differed among ethnicities, with 89% of Hispanic adolescent mothers initiating breastfeeding. Almost 62% of breastfeeding Hispanic teen mothers continued nursing for more than four weeks. Four out of teen Black teens initiated breastfeeding, but only 16% of these mothers continued nursing past four weeks. White teens initiated breastfeeding half of the time, but only 26% of these mothers continued past four weeks.

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Researchers identified barriers to successful initiation and continuation of breastfeeding for adolescent mothers. Teen mothers weaned due to dissatisfaction with breastfeeding or time constraints due to attending school. Other reasons included discomfort with breastfeeding and low milk supply.

Individualized interventions to assist breastfeeding adolescents may help improve breastfeeding initiation and continuation rates. Hands-on assistance and teaching both in the hospital and in the home in the first days after discharge would help improve latch and milk transfer, preventing nipple trauma and low milk supply.

Teenage mothers who return to school may discontinue breastfeeding due to perceived or actual barriers when they are separated from their infants. Schools can assist students by providing a time and place to pump or express milk, just as public and private employers provide time and locations to support their breastfeeding employees, often per state law. Anticipatory discussion of pumping strategies, milk storage and transition back to school provides tools to encourage teens to continue to breastfeed.

When possible, breastfeeding education should include both the teen and her support system and provide factual information individualized to each adolescent mother’s circumstance. Each mother should be encouraged to set her own breastfeeding goals and interventions should support the mother in reaching her goals.

Breastfeeding is recommended to promote ideal health for both mothers and children. The World Health Organization recommends women breastfeed for at least two years to reduce the risk of illnesses and maximize growth and development. Breastfeeding protects against health problems ranging from ear infections to diabetes and obesity, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Breastfeeding saves money for new mothers and also saves health care dollars. Adolescent mothers and their babies benefit from fewer sick days that cause the mother to miss school.

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