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How to Become
A Maternity Nurse

The field of nursing includes many specialties, including maternity nurses who work with pregnant women and newborns. Maternity ward nurses, like all registered nurses, have completed necessary educational and licensure requirements to become a registered nurse, but have chosen to work solely in hospital maternity wards or birthing centers.

What Does a Maternity Nurse Do?

Maternity nurses provide care for newborns after delivery. However, maternity nurses have many other functions as well, including:

  1. Helping pregnant mothers through labor by checking the cervix for dilation and counting contractions.
  2. Helping pregnant women get set up in a hospital room and monitoring their blood pressure and pulse.
  3. Administering medicine to induce the labor process, if necessary. This excludes administering epidurals.
  4. Assisting doctors or labor and delivery nurses during the delivery process.
  5. Cleaning, weighing and checking babies' vital statistics after birth. They also check the health and vital statistics of mothers after giving birth.

Maternity nurses generally have more than one patient or baby under their care and they generally work longer shifts than standard eight-hour days.

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Steps to Becoming a Maternity Nurse

In order to work as a maternity nurse, there are several steps you should take. The common path towards this career involves completing general education coursework in a wide range of disciplines, earning the appropriate degree, and earning a passing grade on standardized testing for nurses. This step-by-step guide on how to become a maternity nurse shows exactly what each part of the process may entail.

  1. Take the prerequisites required by your chosen nursing program.

    Becoming a registered nurse or maternity nurse requires a basic education in both human health and science. Your first course of action is completing any prerequisites required by your program. Basic coursework in these programs usually consists of human anatomy, nutrition, microbiology, chemistry, physiology, upper-level English and communications. Nursing-specific coursework could cover many of the following topics: professional nursing practice, nursing assessment, nursing theory and research, health promotion, leadership and management in nursing, global health, and critical care nursing. In addition, nurses almost always complete training on the technology side of their profession - how to use computers to input patient information, order and transfer medication, and keep accurate patient records.

  2. Attain an associate or bachelor's degree.

    According to Hayley D. Mark, Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program Director at John Hopkins School of Nursing, becoming a maternity nurse requires either an associate degree or bachelor's degree in nursing. While you can go either way, there are pros and cons to each path. For associate degrees in nursing, the benefits could include quicker entry into the workforce (these programs take approximately two years to complete) and the possibility to earn your degree at a less expensive community college. Some nurses who earn associate degrees also go on to complete an RN to BSN degree program, which adds a few more years of schooling. Some employers may reimburse nurses who decide to do this, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports. And that might be a good idea since a bachelor's degree could improve your job prospects, notes Mark. "More and more hospitals are requiring a BSN, particularly ones in urban settings," she explains. "Further, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has long recommended the BSN as the minimum educational requirement for professional nursing practice." Bachelor's degree programs typically take four years to complete. Some nurses choose to earn a master's degree, which can add an additional one to two years of study time and possibly lead to a career as a Nurse Midwife.

  3. Take the NCLEX-RN.

    According to Mark, the next step towards becoming a maternity nurse, or registered nurse for that matter, is earning a passing grade on the NCLEX-RN exam. "Passing this test is what grants you licensure to work as a registered nurse," she says.

  4. Start the search for a job that can help you gain experience.

    Many maternity nurses find work as registered nurses after graduating from nursing school and passing the NCLEX-RN. From there, they build the required clinical nursing and communication skills needed to move into work in the maternity ward, where they train under the supervision of highly skilled professionals. However, some hospitals have training programs in place to cull maternity nurses from the ranks of registered nurses on staff.

  5. Look for nursing jobs that are specific to labor and maternity wards.

    Once you gain the skills and experience required to work as a maternity nurse, you should start the search for a job in this field. Explore the websites of local hospitals to see if they have any job openings in your desired field, and browse online job postings until you find the right fit.

How Can I Become a GREAT Maternity Nurse?

An interview with Nursing Program Director
Hayley D. Mark

To learn more about a career as a maternity nurses, we reached out to Hayley D. Mark, Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program Director at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing for some expert advice and commentary.


Q. What are some common characteristics of a great maternity nurse?

The best maternity nurses have a real passion for dealing with pregnant women and newborns. However, they also need the interpersonal skills to deal well with families, as well as the sharp attention to detail required to work in any nursing position.

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"Technology is no longer optional in the field of nursing; it is now a requirement."

Q. Are today's nurses required to use computers and technology on a daily basis?

Technology is no longer optional in the field of nursing; it is now a requirement. For starters, maternity nurses need to use technology to use and read fetal monitors. Medication systems are also becoming increasingly computerized, including IV pumps. Nearly everything they do involves some type of technology, and that's true for both urban and rural hospitals. Some nurses even take notes on electronic tablets instead of clipboards.

Q. How much longer does it take to become a nurse midwife?

Nurse midwives earn a master's degree in their field, unlike registered nurses - and maternity nurses - who are only required to earn an ASN or BSN. Because nurse midwives work as practitioners, becoming one takes at least two extra years of schooling.

Resources for Maternity Nurses

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses
  • National League for Nursing (NLN)
  • American Nurses Association (ANA)
  • American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM)

Program outcomes vary according to each institution's specific curriculum, and employment opportunities are not guaranteed.

Sources:

1.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, May 2014," http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291161.htm
2.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, May 2014," http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and- nurse-practitioners.htm
3.
Hayley D. Mark, Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program Director at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, interview with the author July 13, 2015
Interview spotlight
Hayley D. Mark
Johns Hopkins School of Nursing

"The best maternity nurses have a real passion for dealing with pregnant women and newborns. However, they also need the interpersonal skills to deal well with families, as well as the sharp attention to detail required to work in any nursing position."

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