Mothering Young and Breastfeeding: Tips on Meeting Your Goals
Updated: Jun 14
Younger mothers typically have lower breastfeeding initiation and also shorter duration rates (Olaiya et al., 2016, McDowell et al., 2008). There are certainly benefits to mothering young. At 22 years old, I had a lot more energy to chase after an infant. Naturally at a younger age, my metabolism was also faster and within a few weeks postpartum, I was back to my pre-pregnancy size. For breastfeeding mothers, the decreased risk for developing ovarian and breast cancer is also greater for younger women and for women who breastfeed for a longer cumulative duration (Brown, 2008). On the other hand, mothering young can also be socially isolating if you are the only mother among your peers. Despite the statistics, I breastfed my daughter for over a year. Here are a few tips for meeting your breastfeeding goals as a young mother.
1. Find your peer support ("breast friends") and professional support. As mentioned, mothering young can be socially isolating, especially if all of your other friends are still living life child free or you just want someone to relate to about your breastfeeding successes and setbacks. I was lucky to have a friend whose son was born days apart from my daughter. It was a huge source of support to have someone to share my breastfeeding experiences with, in addition to, motherhood. If you do not have friends with children, I highly recommend joining a local support group for moms. If you are having difficulty finding local support groups with other moms your age, consider joining one of the Facebook support groups like (Black Moms Breastfeeding Support Group). With the rise of social media support groups, it is becoming easier than ever to connect with other moms.
You may also need professional support. Lactation specialists are available and accessible in many hospitals, but you may need ongoing support for breastfeeding postpartum. The National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color is an organization that aims to "To cultivate a community of diverse professional and peer lactation supporters to transform communi-ties of color through policy, breastfeeding, and skilled lactation care." You can access a directory of lactation providers of color throughout the US on their website.). You can also search for a board certified lactation consultant at: http://www.ilca.org/why-ibclc/falc.
2. Breastfeeding comes in different forms. Do what makes you and your baby most comfortable. You should know that breastfeeding in public is legal. You have the right to breastfeed your baby in public, including in restaurants, stores, in church and even on Facebook. You have the right to breastfeed in public without being told to "cover up", so feed your baby as you please and others will adjust.
On the other hand, not all mothers are comfortable with breastfeeding in public. Multiple studies suggest that younger mothers more commonly report embarrassment with breastfeeding (Brown et al., 2011, Brownell et al., 2012; Nesbitt et al., 2012) If you are not comfortable with the idea of breastfeeding your baby in front of others, there are ways to make the experience more comfortable, like bringing a nursing blanket or pumping your milk beforehand to bring with you. Over time, you may become more comfortable with breastfeeding in public and you may also want to keep that pumped liquid gold stored for the occasions when you are away from your baby. Having a mom friend who is also breastfeeding to hang out with can also provide positive reinforcement for breastfeeding in public. Just know that whether you are pumping your milk to feed your baby from a bottle, or feeding him/her straight from the source, the most important thing is that your baby is being supplied with the nutrition it needs to thrive and benefits that will last a lifetime.
3. Know your rights. Transitioning back to school or work is probably in your near future. It can be tricky to navigate school, work, and breastfeeding, but having some knowledge about your legal rights as a nursing mother can help ease the transition. You can read more about your state laws here and here, which require most employers to provide employees with pumping breaks and a space, other than a bathroom, to do so.
Campus accommodations for lactating mothers are also becoming more common across the US. I was providing a guest lecture on breastfeeding in a women's health class not too long ago, and the students told me a story about one of their classmates who pulled out her pump and began to pump her milk during class. I am all for getting the job done whenever you need to! I am also happy that my university now has dedicated lactation spaces across campus that employers and students can easily access to pump their milk while on campus, in addition to, a map on the university's website that shows the location of all of the lactation rooms. If you are going back to school, plan ahead and check with your HR department to find out what accommodations are available for you. I also recommend pumping and freezing milk ahead of time, if possible, to build your supply of stored milk, prior to returning to school or work.
4. Work your resources. The Affordable Care Act requires commercial and private insurance companies, with a few exceptions, to provide mothers with breastfeeding supplies. Check with your insurance company to learn about the options available for you. In comparison to older mothers, who may be more established in their careers, younger mothers may also have limited financial resources. If you are experiencing a financial strain, know that there are resources available for you, like the Supplemental Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC), and other local programs, and don't be ashamed to seek assistance when you need it. Breastfeeding support through WIC includes peer counseling and assistance from lactation specialists, a greater quantity of food for breastfeeding mothers, as well as, access to breastfeeding pumps and other breastfeeding supplies.
5. Give yourself a break. Everyone deserves a break, including mothers. Becoming a mother forever changes your life's journey and it does so in incredible ways. Your life will be different from a lot of your friends, if they don't have children already, but it does not mean that you are undeserving of a break from time to time. With that, take time to still build and foster relationships with your peers and explore new ventures. Self care is also important for your own mental health. So, if you would like to take a break every once in while to hang out with your friends or to spend some time alone and, if you have a responsible and trusting party to care for your little one, just make sure you pump enough milk for your baby to have during your time away.
The Office on Women's Health also has a resource that is helpful for breastfeeding mothers of any age. You can find it here.
What are your breastfeeding tips for young mothers? Share them below!
1. Brown, J. Nutrition Through the Life Cycle (2008) Fourth Edition. Published in the United States by Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2008. Chapters 6 -7.
2. Brown, Raynor, P., & Lee, M. (2011). Young mothers who choose to breast feed: the importance of being part of a supportive breast-feeding community. Midwifery, 27(1), 53-59. doi:10.1016/j.midw.2009.09.004
3. Brownell K, Hutton L, Hartman J, & Dabrow S. Barriers to breastfeeding amongAfrican American adolescent mothers. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 2002Nov-Dec;41(9):669-73. PubMed PMID: 12462316.
4. Nesbitt, S. A., Campbell, K. A., Jack, S. M., Robinson, H., Piehl, K., & Bogdan, J. C. (2012). Canadian adolescent mothers' perceptions of influences on breastfeeding decisions: a qualitative descriptive study. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth, 12, 149. doi:10.1186/1471-2393-12-149
5. Olaiya O, Dee DL, Sharma AJ, Smith RA. Maternity Care Practices and Breastfeeding Among Adolescent Mothers Aged 12–19 Years — United States, 2009–2011. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65:17–22. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6502a1.
6. McDowell MA, Wang C-Y, Kennedy-Stephenson J. (2008) Breastfeeding in the United States: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 1999-2006. NCHS data briefs, no. 5, Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.