Norma Acker hangs out in the kitchen with her mom and her daughter. (Alice Daniel/KQED)
Norma Acker (right) hangs out in the kitchen with her mother and her daughter, Samantha Grace. She breast-fed her for eight months. (Alice Daniel/KQED)

By Alice Daniel

Norma Acker’s 3-year-old daughter Samantha Grace has opened a bottle of bright red fingernail polish without anyone noticing. Now it’s everywhere.

“Oh Gracie!” says Acker. “Let me see. Give it to mommy. Go wash your hands.” She then laughs the laugh of a mother who has had many a day like this.

Parenting is hard, Acker says. Being a teen parent is even harder. Acker was barely 15 when she had Gracie.

Even though she was a young mother, she’d heard about the benefits of breast-feeding and decided she would try to breast-feed while attending her local high school in the Central Valley town of Reedley.

“The people that can, should breast-feed,” she says. “Children need the extra vitamins and antibodies that breast milk has.”

Pressure to Skip Breast-feeding from Administrators, Friends

But she ran into some obstacles. For one, it was hard to find a private place where she could breast-feed or pump. When she told administrators she would likely need to pump every two hours, they gave her a list of all the possible cons: she would miss out on too much class time; she might lose credits; her grades might be affected.

Even the other young mothers thought she was odd for wanting to breast-feed. There was a lot of pressure to be more carefree.

“They were like, ‘Girl, why aren’t you out eating your lunch?’” Acker says.

She says she was encouraged to go a continuation school — an alternative program that’s typically for at-risk kids. She finally agreed because it would be easier to breast-feed there. But it came with a cost. Acker says the school wasn’t challenging.

Genevieve Colvin of Breastfeed LA says Acker’s story is pretty common. She says while many teenage moms don’t choose to breast-feed, those who do cite barriers at school.

“They are worried about completing their assignments and not having appropriate accommodations,” she said.

In fact, Colvin says only 18 percent of LA County’s school districts have policies for lactation accommodations and that lack of consistency is statewide. She says outside agencies like Women, Infants and Children (WIC) advocate for lactating students by making sure they have a safe private place to breast-feed, but systemically, school districts don’t take an active role in implementing policy.

Colvin says that’s a problem because teen moms are already at a disadvantage. It’s important, she says, that when a woman is pregnant during her high school years, she has every opportunity to improve the life of her child and that includes being encouraged to breast-feed.

California has some of the strongest laws in the country to support working mothers who breast-feed, she ways, but high schools are different.

“We have very little substantive language in our education code that actually provides students with the same accommodations,” she says.

New Bill Addresses Accommodations for Breast-feeding

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) wants to strengthen that language. She recently sponsored Assembly Bill 302.  She says the bill is simple and to the point.

“It doesn’t say you must have a lactation room or a pumping room. It says if you have a student that needs to lactate, you will create accommodations for them,” Garcia says.

It’s one more way to encourage young mothers to breast-feed while keeping them in a regular high school setting, she believes.

“A student at a traditional high school is going to have more opportunities and more options than a student at a continuation school,” Garcia says. Teen parents are already at a disadvantage, “I want to make sure that … we don’t add to the layer of disadvantages that are there.”

It’s a policy Norma Acker wishes were in place when she went to high school. She’s proud to say she breast-fed her daughter for eight months, and she would have done so no matter what the cost.

“If it meant me dropping out of high school just to make her well, then I would do that,” she says. “If it meant that I would fail as a person myself but be the best mom I could be for her, I would do that.”

But Acker didn’t fail. She’s now in her second year of community college, and she’s still making sure her daughter eats well.

For Breast-feeding Teen Moms, High Schools Don’t Make the Grade 10 March,2015State of Health

  • MOnkinSF

    Even with these mother’s room, these teem girls would be greatly affected during those years. Best practice should be taking 2 years off school and come back to resume the school when the girl is ready again.

    The parents of the teen should answer to their negligence. Teen pregnancy should not be encouraged by getting reward.

    • Ren’ee Brizendine

      What you said is ignorance. Let me help you learn a little. It is not the parents fault their teen chose to have premarital sex nor to have their child be a parent. I do agree that some parents could parent better,but this is not always the situation. How on earth would it be better for her to take 2 years off? So every working mother should take 2 years off even if she desperately needs the money. Don’t you think that the teen mom needs a diploma to have a better chance at having a good job to afford the well being of her baby. Baby deserves the nutrients and needs them even more with a teen mom. They should definitely be encouraged to breastfeed. It also creates a better bond between the two. Breastfeeding is a reward to any pregnancy, not only for teen moms. And that is a GOOD thing

      • MOnkinSF

        Where is the baby’s father?

        If she does need the diploma, should she think twice before she has unprotected intercourse?

        While I sympathize with her difficulty, I do see such convenience set up as a reward to encourage teen to follow the path.

        By the way, clling name is not a sign of good parenting.

        • Ren’ee Brizendine

          Sometimes father’s do not stay, young, old married or not. I don’t agree with that at all either. 
          I have to disagree with you, formula feeding is more of a convenience for moms that choose not to breastfeed. Unfortunately we don’t always make the right choices in life. But hopefully we will learn from them. When many teens, not all do have babies and formula feed, it is more convenient for them. Many times others are taking care of their babies while they go have fun. Breastfeeding bonds and keeps them closer to their baby.
          I am sorry that you feel like I was name calling. Ignorance isn’t a bad thing, it means not knowing. I was trying to teach you a little about breastfeeding. Have you breastfed?
          I do think that I am a good parent. 

          • MOnkinSF

            Obviously my dictionary is very than yours. In your dictionary, ignorance, irresponsibility, teen pregnancy are all good words, good things.

          • Ren’ee Brizendine

            No I do not feel it is a good thing. But once it happens of course it would be a good idea to breastfeed. Did you not know what ignorance is? It is when you are not educated or do not know about something. But of course you can learn to cure ignorance. I was only trying to help you learn more about how breastfeeding is very beneficial for babies. Not saying teen pregnancy is wonderful, but breastfeeding is. You seem to just enjoy arguing not learning. I’m sorry.

State of Health Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor