The lack of breastfeeding in the United States is a public health crisis, according to U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin. The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics are among the professional organizations to recommend that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. In some parts of the world, breastfeeding infants can make the difference between life and death.
In the United States, only 13.6 percent of infants receive exclusive human milk for the crucial first six months. In 2010, with the release of the Surgeon General’s Call to Breastfeeding Action, the U.S. government offered the most comprehensive plan to date on how to improve breastfeeding outcomes which, in turn, can improve national health.
As the largest health care profession in the United States, totaling 3.1 million professionals, nurses play a critical role in breastfeeding education and support.
"Our role is essential in helping women and their families achieve their personal breastfeeding goals," says Dr. Diane L. Spatz, PhD, RN, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. Dr. Spatz gives targeted recommendations for nurses and breastfeeding promotion in the May 2011 issue of Nursing Outlook.
Nurses have unique power to influence health promotion and disease prevention among their patients. In many capacities, nurses live and work in the communities where they influence families and families’ health throughout the lifespan. In some populations, nurses often are the sole health care providers available to assist and support the initiation and maintenance of breastfeeding.
In her article, Dr. Spatz calls on her colleagues to "find ways to promote breastfeeding and help women and their families to achieve breastfeeding success. Educated nurses should be the first level of intervention for all breastfeeding women and their infants."
Nursing Outlook, Volume 59, Issue 3, Pages 174-176, May 2011
The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding