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Special Dietary Needs of Nursing Teenage Moms

By Jill Lee
March 23, 1998

Nutrition research has helped pinpoint specific recommended dietary allowances (RDA) for teenagers and for women who are nursing infants. Preliminary research results suggest special guidelines for teenage mothers who are nursing may be a good idea.

At the Children's Nutrition Research Center in Houston, a pediatrician compared breast-milk production of 22 mothers. The Houston center is a cooperative facility of the Agricultural Research Service and Baylor College of Medicine.

Half the women in the Houston study were adults; the other half were teens with an average age of 16. All the mothers had similar milk nutrients, but the teens produced 37 to 54 percent less milk than the adults. Over the long term, that would shortchange the teens' infants on meeting their babies' nutritional needs. The results were statistically significant even after adjusting for differences in feeding time and nursing frequency.

The reason for the teenagers' lower milk production may be that they have not yet completed their own growth. Since a teen mother has this additional nutrient demand, her body may "choose" to favor her and reduce milk production for her baby.

To learn more, the research team measured body composition, diet and milk production of 24 teenage mothers, half of whom breast-fed their babies. Eleven other teens, who had not had children, were studied for comparison.

Preliminary findings suggest nursing teens continue to add muscle mass to their bodies, indicating continuing growth. Teens who breast-fed appeared to consume 23 percent more calories and vitamin B6 and 40 percent more protein. Their dietary needs returned to regular levels after they stopped breast- feeding.

The March issue of Agricultural Research, ARS' monthly magazine, has an article about the research. The article is also on the World Wide Web at:


Scientific contact: Kathleen Motil USDA/ARS Children's Nutrition Research Center, Houston Texas. Phone (713) 798-7180, fax (713) 798-7187,

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