Study Links NICU Nurse Education, Work Environment to Increased Breast Milk Consumption for Critically Ill Infants

Published on in CHOP News

A mother’s breast milk contains nutrients and immunological benefits for all newborn babies, but for those born with very low birth weight (3.3 pounds or less), these benefits can be life-saving. So why is it that some premature babies leave the hospital on a formula diet? Lead author Sunny G. Hallowell, PhD, PCPNP-BC, IBCLCEileen Lake, PhD, RN, FAAN, a nursing and health policy professor from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, and Diane Spatz, PhD, RN-BC, FAAN, director of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Breastfeeding and Lactation Program, wanted to find out.

A new paper published in the International Journal of Nursing Studies found that neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) with better work environments and better-educated nurses were more likely to recommend breast milk for some of the hospital’s smallest and most fragile patients. The report looked at data from 97 nursing units nationwide and surveyed close to 5,600 nurses.

According to the report, better work situations that can lead to improved outcomes include:

  • Having a strong nurse manager and collegial relationship with physicians
  • Nurses having a say in hospital decisions
  • Sufficient resources
  • Nursing model driven by nursing care

“Human milk should be viewed as a medical intervention in the NICU,” says Spatz. “Helping a mother to give her baby human milk should be just as important as managing a baby on a ventilator.”

Lake and Spatz hope the findings of this paper will influence NICUs throughout the country.