Booby Traps Series: Can teen moms beat the breastfeeding odds?

This is the 31st post in a series on Booby Traps™, made possible by the generous support of Motherlove Herbal Company.

For the last few weeks I’ve been writing about Booby Traps™ related to culture and race.  One of you left a comment asking that I write about similar barriers teen and young moms face, particularly with respect to low expectations among health care providers who work with pregnant and new moms.

It is true that young moms breastfeed at lower rates than older moms. CDC data from 2007 births show that 60% of moms younger than 20 initiate breastfeeding, compared to 79% of moms over 30.  And duration rates differ even more by age:  by 6 months 22% of mothers over 20 are still breastfeeding, but 51% of mothers over 30 are still going.

But is there any evidence that providers’ attitudes toward young moms might undermine their breastfeeding success?  One study of 150 nurses at three hospitals and health clinics did find that “some of the nurses… indicated that they were skeptical about young mothers’ potential for success with breastfeeding because of immaturity and lack of commitment.”  More research is needed on this topic, but this study confirms what I’ve heard anecdotaly from many moms.

I’m very pleased to share a guest post on this topic from Amy, a young mom from Massachusetts, which illustrates the power of good support.  Since having her baby, Amy has become a WIC breastfeeding peer counselor, and is studying biology as a community college transfer student.  She hopes to work in healthcare when she graduates.  Enjoy!

I was 19 years old when I found out I was pregnant.  I began going to my prenatal appointments as soon as I found out.  At my first appointment they had asked me how I had planned to feed the baby. I knew that the right answer was breastfeeding…however not much thought went into my answer.

I started thinking more about the topic. As my due date got closer, I got a packet of information from my OB/GYN listing all the prenatal classes they offered. Interested in getting more information, I signed up for the Breastfeeding Basics class.

I stepped into the Breastfeeding Basics class feeling completely out of place. There were a few other women in the class, all with their husbands. They already looked like mothers, I never felt younger. The class went well, I got great information and I really enjoyed the instructor.

There was one thing the instructor said that really connected with me. At the end of class she said “It is always the people you don’t expect to stick with breastfeeding that do.” I knew I was the one she was referring too. I knew when I left that class I was the one who was going to stick with it. The information was obviously wonderful but it was the support I felt from my instructor knowing that I could succeed that made the largest impact.

When my daughter was born it was in a hectic time in my life. I was breastfeeding all day and all night. My boyfriend and I were in the middle of ending our relationship so I was mostly alone feeding my new little girl.

I went for her two month check up at her pediatrician’s, and found out that she was gaining weight beautifully. Her pediatrician asked me “How old are you again?” and I told her I’d just turned 20. She replied “I always knew your age doesn’t matter when it comes to being a mother. You are doing an amazing job.” I wanted to cry. The recognition kept me motivated.

I am still breastfeeding and my daughter is now two years old!  I give great credit to the women who supported me. You never know how the littlest comment, good or bad, will stay with people. People who see young moms should be sensitive. No matter what the age they can successfully breastfeed as long as there is no one who makes them believe otherwise.

Did you breastfeed as a teen or young mom?  How did your providers talk with you about breastfeeding?  Did their expectations – high or low – have an impact on your breastfeeding intentions or experience?

31 thoughts on “Booby Traps Series: Can teen moms beat the breastfeeding odds?

  1. I am 25 (but I think I look younger) and even though I’m married and my baby was planned, all of the med professionals other than my own doctor seemed to assume that I was going to use formula and that I didn’t know anything. I’m not sure if it was because I went to a clinic that catered to low-income families or if it was an age thing, but I did love proving them wrong!


  2. I was only 19 when my son was born. I had every booby trap thrown at me but we continued to breastfed for two years. The only support I had came from my husband and my OB/GYN. Everyone else, my sister, my MIL, my FIL, my sons pediatrician would try to drag me down with their booby traps. At the time I didn’t understand what was going on, the only thing I understood was that I was GOING to breastfeed.


  3. Thanks for addressing the very important topic/niche in the breastfeeding world. And I absolutely give my hats off to Amy, not only for being a dedicated younger mother, but also for breastfeeding past the first critical year! I’m 30 and breastfeeding my 2.5 year old, and we all know breastfeeding past infancy is awesome but comes with a different set of challenges, for sure. And props to Amy’s supporters as well. I wish Amy & her child the best, brightest future!

    However, I work with teen moms in the Los Angeles area – a very different portrait than what is presented here. We have very low-income, high-risk (all teen pregnancies are high-risk, but we’re talking health issues even prior to pregnancy) African-American and Hispanic girls who are 14-18 years old. Massachusetts is perhaps our nation’s leader in breastfeeding education, support, and programming. I’m not saying it was easy for Amy to have success as a young mother desiring to breastfeed, I’m saying it’s a helluva lot tougher for young mamas in other areas and perhaps we should shed some light on those situations… breastfeeding is a critical part of the health/mortality equation when we talk about low-income communities of color like in South Los Angeles areas.

    WIC breastfeeding peer counselors are disappearing daily due to budget cuts, and what young teen moms of color need are role models who come from within their communities and understand their background. To compound whatever baises some healthcare providers may have towards teen moms, young moms of color are a) subject to biases within their culture, and b) it’s especially hard to break free from that when you, as a minor, are living at home. Many of the teen moms in LA are also in foster care, let alone the small population of teen moms giving birth within the juvenile justice system.

    I was facilitating a teen parent peer support group last week, and an African American mother who was 17 years olds began to breastfeed her 6 month old son and I’m ashamed to say I was surprised – absolutely delighted, mind you – but surprised. She told me her older sister, herself a teen mom earlier, was her advocate and supporter and said “Formula will never go into your baby!” I wanted to seek her sister out, give her a huge hug and put her on a billboard in downtown Los Angeles.

    I firmly believe that seeing our breastfeeding rates rise among the communities that desperately need to see a rise… will come about by change from within.


    1. Celine,

      Thank *you* for raising these issues. I’ve been wanting to write about how different experiences of motherhood/breastfeeding can be, and your comment brings that right home. Too often when we say “we” we’re thinking only of our own peer group, and I think we could all benefit by a broader understanding.




  4. i birthed my baby at age 17. i was determined to breastfeed and unfortunately was shot down by nurses not wanting to give me the time of day to help get my baby to latch. one brought me a breast pump and here i sit 6 months later. i am so jealous of the moms that get to nurse their babies and i think the ones that dont even try it are missing out on so much. i am inspired to tell everyone about the benefits of breastfeeding and i hope more young girls can become educated about it and receive the help they need too. i guess i will be thankful i have a pump to provide my baby with the best food possible but will definitely not be birthing in a hospital next time around.


    1. Hannah,

      Kudos to you for pumping!!!! I am a 30 year old mother with lots of support and I don’t think I could have pumped for 6 months! I pump twice a day at work and it is hard work. What an amazing feat! You are an awesome Momma!


      1. thank you so much! i pump every 2 hrs for an average of 4 hrs a day. everyone thinks im crazy but unless i completely dry up theres no way i’ll ever give him formula! i also have 3,000+ ounces in the freezer i plan to donate if i dont use it.


  5. I needed this article today. I’m 18 and nursing my one month old as I type. I’ve also found that everyone assumes I formula feed and mainly that is the norm around here. As sad as it is. My nurses at the hospital didn’t take much time to help my daughter latch after a 26 hour labor ending in csection, they just automatically handed me a shield, now my baby wont latch without it. But even if we have to use the shield, I am thankful that we are some of the few young moms who actually brestfeed.


    1. Hang in there, we needed a shield to get started, too. With the help of a couple of Le Leche League leaders (who weren’t as militaristic as I’ve heard some can be), we got off of it cold turkey at around 11 weeks.

      You’re doing a great job, it DOES get better!


    2. I was 23 when I had my first child and also had to use a shield for several weeks. What worked for us was to start the session with the shield until the let-down was over because the pressure and volume was just too much for my little man to handle at that age. Then I’d pull him off, remove the shield, and put him back on, all as quickly as possible. After several weeks of the process, we needed it less and less. I think he was probably 2 months before it was gone altogether. Good luck!!!


    3. It isn’t permanent! We used one for about 10 weeks. Keep working at getting her to latch once a day. One day my girl just rejected the shield and while she still needed practice we have been nursing beautifully for 5.5 months now!


  6. My 1st child was born the day after my 17th birthday. I had actually planned on giving him up for adoption but very logically thought it would be best to breastfeed him after birth for the health benefits. It was probably the reason I ended up keeping him,really. I encountered a lot of negativity while nursing but I stuck with it. The school nurse tried to make me feel awkward about pumping during my lunch and storing the breastmilk in her little fridge but I brushed it off. The women in my family had never breastfed and weren’t exactly supportive and tried to encourage me to quit constantly. I caved at a year because I was pretty uninformed and thought I really HAD to. I became a mentor for pregnant teens for many reasons but #1: to encourage and support them to breastfeed. It is so,so important.


  7. I was 16 years when I first became a mother. I did notice that my treatment with a OB/GYN was poor. They saw me at his office like a lost cause. I switched Dr. and went with a Midwife and she delivered me. I on demand breastfed thanks to her and continued to do so for 3 YEARS!!!! EBF NO SUPPLEMENTING at all. I was and am very proud of myself for sticking to breastfeeding. Now I am a mother of 5 and almost 30 and ALL my kids have Breastfed. My youngest now is 4 months and we have a great nursing relationship I practice ON DEMAND nursing and my baby is happy as can be!


  8. I was 22 (almost 23) when I had my son and I knew even before he was born that I was going to breast feed. It was definitely hard at first and actually extremely painful but from the support of my LLL group I was able to keep with it knowing all the benefits nursing had over formula feeding (and the saved $ was a plus). I nursed my son until he was almost 14 months old and loved the bond we had. I loved all of the odd looks I would get when I would feed him in public. The best comment I would get was “Isn’t the baby a bit old/big to be doing that?” and I don’t know about anyone else but I don’t think you are ever too old to eat. I really hope that more young women start to embrace the joys of breast feeding and that this negative image our society has is removed.


  9. I got pregnant with my daughter in April 2000. I was 17, but turned 18 in June. She was born in Jan 2001. I exclusively breastfed her for a year. She never had a drop of formula. I had my son at 26 and exclusively breastfed him for 2 years. I am now 29 and due any day with baby #3 who will also be exclusively breastfed.


  10. I was 17 when I had my first daughter. I tired to breastfeed her as long as I could but she took to the bottle and wasn’t interested in going back after more bottle experiences, lol. Then I even tried pumping for as long as I could because she had gotten to used to the bottle. So after hours wasting away at pumping I had to stop. So my second daughter came when I was 20. I was determined to keep her breastfeeding long so I didn’t give her a bottle at all at first. I was afraid she would get used to it and not like the boob no more. But the few times did try a bottle she didn’t like it to much. So I was able to breastfeed her for a FULL long but rewarding year of breastfeeding. After she was a year she liked food way to much to go back to boob, haha. But I am glad I did as long as I did. If I have another child I will also breastfeed for sure. 🙂


  11. I love this! I had my first baby at 18 and breastfed her for 13 months, if I knew then what I know now, I would have fed her much longer. I had my second at 19 and breastfed him for 18 months, again if I knew then what I know now. I am now 33 with two more children and I am a breastfeeding advocate. I see a lot of teen moms on FB that are breastfeeding successfully and a lot that are not. I am sure that the biggest hurdle is their support system. I think it is hard for women to trust their bodies to do what they’re supposed to do and at such a young age it is even more difficult. Thank you for this beautiful article!


  12. I was 20 when I first gave birth …. was married…good care from my ob but dont really remember anyone talking about BF. I delivered with a midwife and she asked me shortly after if i wanted to try BF … i did and he took! I ended up EBF no formula or bottles ever for 2.5 years!!


  13. I had my son when I was 21 (had been married just over a year) & knew my whole life I would breastfeed, mostly because my mom breastfed me & my 3 younger siblings & taught us that’s the best way for babies to eat. I had a great experience with my midwife & childbirth educators who were very supportive of breastfeeding before & after his birth. It was extremely hard for the first 1-4 months (gradually got better as time went on) with multiple cases of mastitis, extreme engorgement, cracking & bleeding, pressure from his pediatrician to supplement with formula, etc. but we’re still going strong at 21 months! And looking forward to breastfeeding his brother or sister coming this August, as well as possibly tandem nursing (if he’s still wants to.) The support of my mom, midwife, & just plain stubbornness to do things the way I wanted & planned I think were the biggest part of successfully continuing so long.


  14. I had my son when i was 18, and was always set on breast feeding. It wasn’t easy, but i stuck with it, because i knew that it was the best for my son. i breast fed for 15 months, and never once supplemented with formula. & i am very proud of my self for it.
    I believe breast feeding your child shows how dedicated you are as a mother, it doesnt matter how old you are, it matters how dedicated you are to your child.I will never understand why some mothers dont even try to breast feed. It is what is best for your child, and your job as a mother to feed and provide your child with nourishment.


  15. I was 15 when I had my son.I did not intend to breastfeed my mom formula fed my 2 little sisters.It never crossed my mind.I was going to do formula.But I went to a midwife for care and she introduced me to breastfeeding.She was also an IBCLC.She help me.I breastfeed my son until he was 6 months.I got pregnant again,family told me to stop because it would harm the baby.I had my second son when I was 16 breastfeed.until he was 2.My daughter now (I am 23)is about to turn 2 and still nurses.I feel in love with breastfeeding.My midwife was an inspiration to me in many ways.She helped me in the beginning and introduced me into a different world of which I did not know about.Even though my family comes from Guatemala,everyone breastfeeds until the child is 2-5.My mother did breastfeed me until I was 3, but did not do it with my 2 little sisters.So I saw more the formula feeding,that back then WIC provided for low income mothers.Everyone went and still goes to WIC for formula.Because the give out free formula.I love the fact the WIC now encourages more to breastfeed your baby.I am now a breastfeeding peer counselor .I worked for WIC and love teaching young girls that they can do it.


  16. I had my firstborn at the age of 18, 4 months after I graduated from high school. Breastfeeding just made sense to me. I mean, breasts make milk. Plus it’s free and didn’t require me to do any extra work. Outside of my mom and my son’s pedi, I didn’t have much support. None of my friends had kids yet and most people seemed focused on my inevitable, impending failure. I breastfed him for 13 months. I also fed my next 3 children a total of 45 months, the longest for 21 months. My husband and I are expecting our 5th nursling in 6 weeks and our goal is two years.


  17. Thanks, Tanya and Amy, for this great post! And for all these inspiring comments! FYI, we’re making a role playing Facebook game about birth and breastfeeding that will target teens. We’re working on a prototype now. Once we finish it, we’d love to get input from all you teen mamas, former teen mamas, and teen mama supporters. Send me an email if you want to be involved! Meanwhile, check out our website.


  18. I fell pregnant at 14 with my eldest, I was 15 when he was born, I automatically breastfed, the hospital helped with the latch and he gained very well but I wasn’t very educated but I had mastitis but continued to feed, I introduced formula and solids early though as that’s what I was told to do (family). I breastfed 9 months then eventually stopped because I had flu and my dr said I must think of myself, I thought I had to stop, I was heartbroken, I stayed in bed and didn’t get out. At 16 I found myself pregnant again (I’m married) and at 17 he was born, he latched perfect, I felt like a pro, I’ve beat mastitis 3 times and nipple thrush once (that is what you call extreme pain) and we still going strong at 18 months!!! I’m 18 now & don’t plan on stopping yet. I think a lot of people give up too soon.


  19. I am so grateful to my friend’s 16 year old daughter who was breastfeeding her toddler when my granddaughter was born. Breastfeeding the newborn was not going well due to bad advice, little help from the lactation experts, and enormous pressure from the paediatrician to supplement. Due to severe allergies in the family involving newborns, my daughter was desperate to avoid formula at all costs. Our dear little friend volunteered her milk if required for baby, taking all the pressure off, and although we didn’t need it, I don’t think she realises what a hero she was to this family.


  20. I had my son one month after my 18 birthday. Since the day I found out I was pregnant I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I felt that it was right. I began to do some research on the internet and after finding out the many benedits breastfeeding had over formula I was determined to do it.

    My mom said she would give it a month because it ‘hurt’ too much and I wouldnt be able handle it.
    A friend of mine who was 18 when she had her daughter as well but had her 5 months before me told me a horor story of why she stopped, saying it hurt too much and that her boobs were inflated and she couldnt aleep that got me little ticked but I still was determined to do it.

    Another friend of mine (yes I have lot of teenage mom friends) and I said we were bpth going to do it but after a month she stopped and began to give her formula.

    The only support I had was my boyfriend and myself. I really wanted to do it and I did. It was hard because I was living qith my mom for the first couple of months and she would constantly put me down saying he ‘needed’ formula and that to give it a rest.
    BUT, my son is about to be one in a month and we are still bonded, I am still breastfeeding and I feel very happy and proud of myself as a mother for that. He is so healthy so hyper and so happy. And the bond that we have is amazing. Everytime I find out someone is pregnant I encourage breastfeeding.


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