While it has many benefits, breastfeeding is not without challenges, and for adolescent parents these challenges can be difficult to navigate. Common concerns include worrying about how breastfeeding will affect their relationships (both with peers as well as romantic partners), how to handle issues such as leaking or engorgement, and the perceived “judgement” or unwanted attention of breastfeeding in public.
Research shows that information alone is not enough to help adolescent mothers stick with a breastfeeding routine. Teens can become easily overwhelmed by the volume of breastfeeding information they are given – and the challenges of applying that information to the individual barriers that they face: pumping and storing milk at school, being dependent on public transportation, and the influence of the family members that they live with (who may or may not be supportive). And of course the questions that any first-time breastfeeding mom struggles with – “Is the baby getting enough milk? Are they properly latched on? Why is this so painful? Should it take this long?”
While teens do need information about breastfeeding, clinicians should be careful of “information overload.” Positive benefits of breastfeeding (impact on the baby’s development, weight loss for the mother, lower cost vs. formula) should be discussed along with information on challenges that may arise. Clinicians can help adolescents deal with these barriers by acknowledging them and discussing possible solutions using specific real-life scenarios. It’s important not to select a solution for the teen – but to ask them to think through several possible alternatives so they can identify the option that will work best for them. For example: “You have an hour commute on the bus with your baby after school. What are some things you could do to make that ride easier?” or “How will you pump at school?” or “Who do you need to talk to if you need to leave a class or school event?” This may include role-playing what they would say and do.
Logistical information is also critical for supporting an adolescent’s return to school or work – helping them secure a pump and supplies, identifying lactation locations – and restrictions or regulations of their use. While there are many community resources to support breastfeeding, it is important to screen these resources to ensure they are prepared to support the unique needs and questions of an adolescent. Having a trusted advocate and support system is critical to helping adolescent parents overcome the many logistical and emotional challenges of breastfeeding.
La Leche League International: http://www.llli.org/llleaderweb/lv/lvmarapr90p19.html