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J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. 1999 May;12(2):83-9.

Choice of feeding method of adolescent mothers: does ego development play a role?

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Division of Adolescent Medicine, Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.



The purpose of this study was to determine whether, among childbearing adolescents, ego development was associated with intention to breast-feed and with actual breast-feeding behavior at birth and at 2 weeks postpartum. In addition, we sought to determine whether positive attitudes toward breast-feeding influenced pregnant adolescents' intentions to breast-feed and actual breast-feeding at the hospital and at 2 weeks postpartum. We hypothesized that adolescents with higher levels of ego development and positive attitudes toward breast-feeding would be more likely to intend to breast-feed and to actually breast-feed.


Prospective cohort study of pregnant adolescents who completed questionnaires, Loevinger's Sentence Completion Tests, and attitudes toward breast-feeding scales before delivery and a follow-up questionnaire at 2 weeks postpartum assessing feeding practice in the hospital and at 2 weeks postpartum.


Two adolescents' clinics and two "teen-and-tot" clinics in urban teaching hospitals.


Fourteen- to 22-year-old pregnant adolescents who had never given birth and who planned to carry their pregnancy to term and parent their children.


1) Intended feeding practice during pregnancy, 2) feeding method in the hospital, and 3) feeding method at 2 weeks postpartum.


Of the 125 subjects enrolled in the study, 106 were at 2 weeks postpartum or more. Of these 106 participants, 75% (n = 78) completed more than 75% of the attitudes toward breast-feeding scale and Loevinger's Sentence Completion Test and are included in these analyses. Mean age at entry was 17.8 +/- 1.5 years (range, 14.3 to 21.8 years). Mean gestational age at enrollment was 21.2 +/- 11.6 weeks (range, 4 to 41 weeks). Of the 78 participants, 12% (n = 9) were at the preconformist, 85% (n = 66) at the conformist, and 4% (n = 3) at the postconformist level of ego development as determined by the Sentence Completion Test. Attitudes toward breast-feeding, intention to breast-feed, breast-feeding in the hospital, and breast-feeding at 2 weeks postpartum were not significantly associated with adolescents' stages of ego development. Almost three fourths of the adolescents intended to breast-feed, and 85% tried breast-feeding in the hospital. A total of 97% (56 of 58) of those who intended to breast-feed tried breast-feeding in the hospital compared with 40% (4 of 10) of those who did not intend to breast-feed (P < .0001). At 2 weeks postpartum, 58% of the participants were still breast-feeding. Of those participants who intended to breast-feed, 67% (39 of 58) were breast-feeding at 2 weeks postpartum compared with 10% (1 of 10) who did not intend to breast-feed (P = .001). The mean breast-feeding attitude score was 53.7 +/- 11.6 (range, 25 to 72). The mean breast-feeding attitude score was higher for those who intended to breast-feed than for those who intended to formula-feed (P = .009), but the score was not associated with breast-feeding in the hospital or at 2 weeks postpartum.


Adolescent mothers were predominantly in ego stages 4 and 5, the conformist level. Because ego development was not associated with outcome measures in this study, ego development may not be a crucial factor when designing interventions to facilitate breast-feeding among adolescents. Attitudes toward breast-feeding were associated with the intention to breast-feed but not behaviors; the intention to breast-feed was significantly associated with breast-feeding behaviors.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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