Reaching Adolescent Mothers

Reaching Adolescent Mothers

Categories: Leader Today

Rebecca Renegar, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA

As Leaders, our goal is to promote breastfeeding for every nursing mother and baby. However, some mothers remain more difficult to reach than others. Adolescent mothers often fall into this category.

The birth rate among parents under 20 years old is decreasing in many countries, including the United States.1 However, adolescent pregnancy continues to occur in high-, middle-, and low-income countries.2 Further, in countries where data is available, adolescent mothers consistently have lower breastfeeding rates than older mothers.3,4,5

Breastfeeding outcomes in this population are influenced by a lack of access to education and social support, a need for lactation assistance, and stigma from peers, adults, and the broader community.6,7 Adolescent parents are also more likely to be unmarried or economically disadvantaged, and disproportionately represent marginalized communities.1,2,4 The intersection of age, socioeconomic status, and minority race can result in limited access to or strained relationships with healthcare providers, who play a central role in the success of breastfeeding for these mothers.5

In addition, adolescent mothers often lack exposure to or knowledge about child rearing. This may make them more likely to be influenced by their immediate social circle, including friends and family. In the U.S. in the early 2000s, when many of today’s adolescent parents would have been born, 25-35% of children were never breastfed, and half of all infants were fully formula-fed by four months.4 Worldwide, statistics vary, but exclusive breastfeeding rates through six months rarely exceeded 60% in that time period.8 This means that grandmothers, who are an influential figure regarding infant feeding decisions,7 likely lack experience with breastfeeding. This may manifest either in passive support for the mother’s decision to breastfeed without offering practical help, or an active attempt to have the mother switch to formula, something with which the grandmother may be more comfortable.3

Preliminary studies suggest that as little as 70 minutes of instruction can have a meaningful impact on students’ breastfeeding knowledge and attitudes

Adolescent mothers are more likely to breastfeed if they have received meaningful education on the subject.9 In addition, many parents make preliminary infant-feeding decisions during the adolescent years, even if they do not go on to have children immediately.7 Therefore, providing school-based or community-based education on breastfeeding for adolescents could serve to influence currently expecting adolescents as well as future parents. Preliminary studies suggest that as little as 70 minutes of instruction can have a meaningful impact on students’ breastfeeding knowledge and attitudes.9 Interestingly, the inclusion of grandmothers in prenatal breastfeeding education, as well as ongoing breastfeeding consultation, also results in an increase in overall breastfeeding for adolescent mothers.3

The inclusion of grandmothers in prenatal breastfeeding education, as well as ongoing breastfeeding consultation, also results in an increase in overall breastfeeding for adolescent mothers

In the absence of support from medical professionals, close friends, or family, adolescents are quick to turn to technology.6,10 Therefore, the use of social media, messaging, and apps for smart phones have the ability to influence breastfeeding outcomes, especially when geared toward teenagers. Approaches that have been found effective include apps to track feedings, tips and information delivered in small pieces, connecting with other mothers via the internet, and communicating with breastfeeding helpers via messaging.6,10

Leaders hoping to reach adolescent parents could consider connecting with local schools or community partners to provide free and accessible breastfeeding education. They could also explore web-based or social media platforms and be open to receiving messages via text, chat, or other social media messaging. When holding Group meetings, Leaders will want to remember that grandmothers may play a greater role in support than the baby’s father and make every effort to include grandparents in meetings and discussions. LLL Leaders can help adolescent mothers meet their breastfeeding goals!

Reference List

  1. Livingston, G., & Thomas, D. (2019). Why is the teen birth rate falling? Pew Research Center. Retrieved February 2, 2021 from
  2. World Health Organization. (2020). Adolescent pregnancy. Retrieved February 2, 2021 from
  3. Bootsri, W., & Taneepanichskul, S. (2017). Effectiveness of experiential learning with empowerment strategies and social support from grandmothers on breastfeeding among Thai adolescent mothers. International Breastfeeding Journal, 12(37).
  4. Centers for Disease Control. (2021). National immunization survey. Accessed February 2, 2021 from
  5. Jamie, K., O’Neill, R., Bows, H., Hackshaw-McGeah, L. (2020). Healthcare practitioner relationships, cultural health capital and breastfeeding support for adolescent mothers. Health Education Journal, 78(8), 901-913.
  6. Clark, C., Price, K. (2018). Exploring the role of social support in understanding barriers to breastfeeding practices for adolescent mothers in Western North Carolina: A preliminary study. International Public Health Journal, 10(3), 333-342.
  7. Muelbert, M., & Guigliani, E. R. J. (2018). Factors associated with the maintenance of breastfeeding for 6, 12, and 24 months in adolescent mothers. BMC Public Health, 18(675).
  8. UNICEF. (2019). Infant and young child feeding. Accessed February 3, 2021 from
  9. Reyes, C., Barakat-Haddad, C., Barber, W., & Abass-Dick, J. (2019). Investigating the effectiveness of school-based breastfeeding education on breastfeeding knowledge, attitudes and intentions of adolescent females. Midwifery, 70, 64-70.
  10. Celik, R., & Toruner, E. K. (2017). The effect of technology-based breastfeeding approach on adolescent mothers’ breastfeeding situation. International Journal of Gynecology, Obstetrics and Neonatal Care, 4(1), 1-6.

Rebecca Renegar is a LLL Leader and a doctoral student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA with the department of Child and Family Studies. She lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA with her husband and three wonderful children aged 10, 7, and 8 months. Rebecca researches pregnancy and parenting in low-income and adolescent parents.