Factors Influencing the Breastfeeding Practices of Young Mothers Living in a Maternity Shelter: A Qualitative Study

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Young mothers have the lowest breastfeeding rates in Canada. Young mothers and their infants who access maternity shelters are especially at risk for poor outcomes, some of which breastfeeding may help to mitigate, yet little is known of the breastfeeding practices of this population.

Research aim:

The purpose of this study was to answer the research question, “What factors influence the breastfeeding practices of young mothers who live or have lived in a maternity shelter?”


The study was conducted using interpretive description methodology and inductive content analysis. Data were collected by means of one-on-one interviews, with the participants recruited from a maternity shelter in Ontario, Canada.


Nine young mothers ages 17 to 24 years, who had initiated breastfeeding and resided at a maternity shelter, were interviewed. The five themes that emerged from the data were as follows: (a) choice, (b) special, (c) importance of early postpartum support, (d) being part of the “in crowd,” and (e) importance of ongoing supports. The participants in this study took ownership of their choice to breastfeed. Hospital postpartum nurses and lactation consultants had a critical role in the establishment of early breastfeeding, and ongoing, accessible, and nonjudgmental peer, family, and community support were important to breastfeeding duration.


A combination of emotional and practical supports from multiple trusted sources, including professional and peer supports on an ongoing basis, enabled young mothers to reach their breastfeeding goals.

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