One key to breastfeeding success? Having enough hospital nurses to ensure that new moms get top-notch care.
Hospitals with higher rates of exclusive breastfeeding had nurses who provided more consistent care, according to a new report.
That care included helping moms have skin-to-skin contact with their babies and breastfeed within an hour of giving birth. Nurses also provided education and encouragement, made referrals to lactation consultants, and kept healthy birth parents and babies together.
"Nurses make substantial, often unrecognized, contributions to public health during pregnancy, and during and following birth," said study author Audrey Lyndon, assistant dean for clinical research at NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing in New York City. "Our research provides a great example of how supportive nursing care can have longer term effects on maternal and infant health."
For the study, Lyndon's team surveyed 512 labor nurses from 36 hospitals in three U.S. states. The researchers found that hospitals with higher rates of exclusive breastfeeding had fewer incidents of missed nursing care.
Lead author Kathleen Rice Simpson said, "We suspect that multiple structural factors affect nurses' capacity to provide sufficient and appropriate support for successful exclusive breastfeeding." She's a perinatal clinical nurse specialist in St. Louis, Mo.
"Hospital and maternity unit culture, policies, communication, availability of resources, including adequate nurse staffing, and promotion of effective practices for initiation and sustainment of human milk feeding are all important," she explained in an NYU news release.
Breast milk provides complete nutrition for infants, helping strengthen their immune systems. Though some parents are not able to breastfeed or choose not to, nurses play a key role in supporting families who make this choice, according to the study.
The report was published in the October issue of MCN: The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing.
There's more on the importance of breastfeeding at the American Academy of Pediatrics.