Objective: to review the evidence on the nature of support for breast-feeding adolescent mothers.
Methods: a systematic review of relevant English-language papers was conducted using an a-priori search strategy. Agreement on final inclusion was reached by consensus across the team. The findings were tabulated and described narratively and thematically.
Findings: of 209 studies identified, seven fitted the inclusion criteria. The papers included in this review varied in design, quality and focus. Five types of support were identified: emotional, esteem, instrumental, informational and network. The participants in the included studies seemed to find the emotional, esteem and network components of support most helpful. Support from the participants' mothers seemed to be particularly powerful. The provision of continuity of support from an expert individual who is skilled in both lactation support and working with adolescents was also highly valued by breast-feeding adolescents. There was also evidence to suggest that targeted breast-feeding educational programmes, specifically designed for the adolescent learner, may be successful in improving breast-feeding initiation and continuation rates in this population. However, a question still arises about which elements of the complex package on offer were most effective.
Conclusion: the studies included in the review are diverse. Although the support provided by known and trusted individuals emerges as important to the adolescents, further research is required on the specific nature of that support and the person best placed to provide it. The acceptability and feasibility of other aspects of support and modes of provision also requires additional exploration. Further qualitative and feasibility studies are therefore warranted in order to inform future randomised-controlled interventions trials.