Strategically Positioned: Breastfeeding, Advocacy, and the Hands-On Nurse
Breastfeeding, a health behavior that provides well-known benefits for mothers, infants, and children, is an essential strategy to improve public health. Breastfeeding can reduce the incidence of infant illness and death and provides both short- and long-term physiological benefits to mothers. National and international government agencies and grassroots organizations supporting breastfeeding include the World Health Organization, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the La Leche League. In the United States, breastfeeding of infants was the norm until the late 1890s when the Progressive Era's emphasis on science and modernity led to the transition of childbirth from residential in-home births to community-based hospital births and the aggressive rise of the baby formula industry. By 1966, only 18% of mothers were exclusively breastfeeding their infants at hospital discharge. This drastic decrease in breastfeeding reduced the percentage of mothers and grandmothers who could share their breastfeeding knowledge and experience. Nurses who provide care for women and infants are essential stakeholders in bridging the breastfeeding knowledge gap by offering education on the short- and long-term health benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and baby and timely encouragement to mothers during the most significant time for establishing lactation.