Nursing Interventions at the Start of Life

A nurse does a house call to check in with first time mother.

Photo credit: Barry Gutierrez Photography

Nurses have long pioneered programs to influence health and well-being at the start of life, but despite these programs’ success, they are far from universal.



This brief describes nursing interventions with pregnant women, babies, and very young children that improve children’s prospects for a lifetime of health. The brief also lays out seven steps leaders can take to bring such programs to scale.

The Issue

Only in recent years have scientists fully understood just how critical the period from conception through age 3 is for preventing illness and promoting health and well-being. During this time, babies’ and toddlers’ brains and bodies are growing rapidly. They are tremendously vulnerable—and receptive—to physical, social, and emotional influences.

Key Findings

  • Intervening on behalf of children born into adversity at the earliest possible moment—before they are born—and assisting their mothers in making the transition to parenthood are effective ways to support children’s long-term health and well-being.

  • Some interventions call for up-front investment, but established programs have demonstrated significant savings over the long term—by offsetting health, educational, or juvenile justice costs incurred in later years.

  • Public initiatives and public-private partnerships that leverage Medicaid dollars can expand the reach of proven programs that reduce early elective deliveries, improve prenatal care, and bring home visiting to more families.

  • Nurses are leading hospital- and community-based initiatives to increase the percentage of very-low-birth-weight babies receiving the benefits of breast milk.

  • A little-known resource, nurse health consultants in day care and preschool settings are helping to educate caregivers, promote health, and prevent disease—three building blocks for a lifetime of health.


Effective nurse-designed interventions provide models for policymakers who are ready and willing to invest in improving lifelong health for society’s most vulnerable or the population as a whole. In order for these successful early childhood programs to reach more people and for society as a whole to benefit, advocates need to show policymakers how strategic short-term investments are yielding long-term cost savings.

To view content after June 2017, visit Charting Nursing's Future at its new home on the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action website.

About the Series

For more than a decade, Charting Nursing’s Future has assembled research and expert opinion to inform readers about policies and best practices that are transforming nursing, health care and public health. Propensity LLC currently produces this series.