We Need Mothers to Breastfeed In Front of Teenagers


This week is World Breastfeeding Week (WBW). The theme for WBW 2011 this is engaging and mobilizing youth through inter-generational learning. The goal is to broaden breastfeeding support and learning outside of the pregnancy/newborn stage. Too often, the first time that women (and men) learn anything about breastfeeding is when they are preparing to have their first child. A large percentage of first time mothers have never seen anyone breastfeed prior to the first time they hold their newborn baby to their own breast.

Breastfeeding is normal and natural, but it isn’t always easy. A lot of mothers find it awkward, difficult, and may even see it as disgusting or off-putting. In large part, this stems from the fact that they haven’t seen women nursing their babies as part of every day life, in the same way that they see women walking their babies in strollers, giving them pacifiers or bottles, or playing peek-a-boo. Men are often concerned about their wives breastfeeding in public because they don’t want them exposing their breasts. Unfortunately, these attitudes come about because breastfeeding is so often hidden away and done only in the privacy of the family home or at best under a nursing cover in a public space. In order for breastfeeding to seem normal and natural, it needs to be visible. It needs to be something that everyone has seen and everyone is familiar with. It shouldn’t be something that people see as awkward or disgusting.

I am the oldest of four children and my mother nursed all of us. My sister, the youngest, is seven years younger than I am. Unfortunately, I have no memories of my mother breastfeeding any of us. I can hardly even picture my sister as a baby and my earliest memories of her are from the time she was about two years old. So when I became a mother 22 years after my youngest sibling was born, I didn’t have any images of my mother nursing them to draw on. How should I hold the baby? Sure, I’d seen pictures in books and online of the different nursing positions, but it seemed so awkward. I simply hadn’t had enough exposure to people nursing their newborns.

As a teenager, I spent a year on an exchange program in Australia. I stayed with a family that had five children, from teens all the way down to a one year old. My host mother was still nursing the one year old and I do have clear memories of her sitting on the couch and nursing him, as well as of him sleeping in their bed (likely to facilitate nighttime nursing). I’m glad that I had this exposure to breastfeeding a toddler and to co-sleeping when I was a teenager, even if they seemed weird or strange for me at the time. I think those memories subconsciously helped me to see those things as normal and gave me a concrete role model as I set out on my parenting journey.

Most women do want to breastfeed, but many of them are not able to meet their own breastfeeding goals due to challenges that they run into on the way. Among younger mothers, the breastfeeding rate is lower than among older mothers. This may be partly an issue of education, but it is probably also because older mothers are more likely to have friends who already have children who act as breastfeeding mentors and role models for them. Younger mothers, however, may be lacking those role models.

If more mothers were to breastfeed in public, especially around teenagers and young adults, it would provide them with important exposure to breastfeeding in the years prior to becoming parents. It would help them to see that breasts are not just sexual, it could give them the confidence to breastfeed and it could give them concrete visual examples to draw on as they hold their own baby up to their breast for the first time. It would give them more places to seek support, make them feel less alone, and give them more confidence.

Have you breastfed your baby in front of teenagers or young adults? Did you see women breastfeeding when you were a teenager or young adult?  Please share your stories of inter-generational breastfeeding learning.

Related Stories:

CDC Says Hospitals Need To Do More To Help Moms Breastfeed

Nursing Moms Alert: Make Way for the Milk Truck! (Video)

Are Breastfeeding Bans Just a Way To Keep Women in the Home?

Used with permission by Joni Rae Latham


Roberto M
Roberto MARINI3 months ago

thanks for this article

Elisa Faulkner- Uriarte
Elisa F5 years ago

When I chose to nurse my babies I had only seen my sister nurse her children.Her children were born in the 70's. My children were born in the 80's -90's. Since so many young mothers may not have access to or seen other mothers nurse, I support this. There is no greater bond, no better nutrition for babies and their mothers.

DareToCare Still

Donna B. - I am curious. You state that "they should stop pushing breast feeding". Can I ask why you think "they" should stop promoting feeding babies the way nature intended? Do you have shares in a formula company or something? (j/k - couldn't resist) It was both your decision and your right to feed your baby however you saw fit - but do not delude yourself into thinking that what ever formula you chose to go with was in fact equal to or better than what your own body was biologically programmed to produce.

Donna B.
Donna B5 years ago

No, I don't think so. And NOT most moms want to breast-feed. I didn't and I know alot of people who also didn't want to. They should stop pushing breast-feeding.

Phillipa W.
Phillipa W5 years ago

I can't imagine having gone through life and not seen anyone breastfeeding. However, there were still some things to learn before my baby's birth. But I can't imagine a life where breastfeeding in public wasn't the norm.

Huber F.
Huber F5 years ago

isn't this a shackle move on the child and his peers?

Loo Samantha
Loo sam5 years ago


Tony C.
Tony C5 years ago

If Sex education was MANDATORY and children were shown women breasting feeding, they would see that it is a natural and beautiful experience of life. They would learn that breast feeding is best for the baby for health reasons. Within a few generations women would be breast feeding all the time in public whenever the baby was hungry without shame or embarrassment. That is the only criteria.
If you don't want to see a woman breast feeding, DON'T LOOK. Why should the baby be inconvenienced by your insecurities and moral indignation?

Lydia S.
Lydia S6 years ago

@ Himanshu S: "if there is any women who is ready to put her video of feeding baby on net i will pay her."

Free, from YouTube ... lovely video of mommies bonding with their babies ...


Jerry t.
Jerold t6 years ago

It's good for the young to learn to notice and not stare. And to understand the sacred bond of motherhood.
A breastfeeding ban? Babies feed on demand. Why not a ban on bathrooms, they can be pretty disgusting. Anyway, the sound of suckling beats screaming in my ears.