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A maternity nurse, also know as a labor and delivery nurse, is usually a registered nurse who specializes in working with pregnant women, new mothers and newborns in a hospital maternity ward or birthing center. Some are licensed practical nurses who work under the supervision of a registered nurse. The care they provide is why some call it "maternal nursing." Maternity nurse jobs can be both challenging and rewarding. As a maternity nurse, one sees daily the miracle of new life — and the joy it brings families. However, when a mother or baby are very ill, it can bring stress and sadness to the job.

Day in the Life of a Maternity Nurse

The labor and delivery nurse job description is similar from day to day but may vary depending on the setting and patient needs. That said, on a typical day, a maternity nurse performs the following duties.

Before a woman gives birth:

  • Helps her get set up and comfortable in a hospital or labor room
  • Monitors the patient's blood pressure and pulse

During labor and delivery:

  • Checks the patient's cervix for dilation and helps her count contractions
  • Administers medicine to induce the labor, if necessary (but labor nurses aren't usually qualified to administer epidurals)
    • Medicine may be given using a computerized IV pump or other high-tech delivery system
  • Reads fetal monitors to gauge how the baby is doing
  • Assists doctors during the delivery process

After delivery:

  • Cleans, weighs and checks the newborn baby's vital statistics
  • Checks the mother's vital statistics
  • Cares for mothers and their newborn infants, and trains mothers in postpartum care; including coaching them on how to breastfeed their newborns

Maternity nurses often care for more than one mother and baby at once. And they may also take care of patients who have had a miscarriage or aborted a pregnancy. Expectant mothers who have had uterine surgery or who have other gynecological problems also fall under their care.

Maternity nurses may work day, evening, overnight and weekend shifts. The setting for maternity nurse jobs varies according to the size of the facility and any specialty care it provides.

  • A staff nurse in a high-risk obstetrics unit is responsible for the health and safety of pregnant women with complications during their pregnancies or while delivering their babies.
  • A hospital neo-natal ward is where premature infants receive critical care; here maternity nurses take care of very ill and fragile "preemies."
  • Some maternity nurses work in birthing centers (separate from, or within a hospital), this setting is less "institutional" and more like a home. In birthing centers, the nurse may assist a midwife in delivering babies and, if problems arise, may need to arrange for mother and child to be transferred to a hospital.
  • Some labor and delivery nurses work in correctional facilities or obstetrician's offices.

Important Characteristics for Maternity Nurses

A successful maternity nurse has a passion for helping pregnant women and their newborns. Having good interpersonal skills helps them deal well with families, doctors and other hospital personnel. Sharp observation and critical-thinking skills can allow them to respond quickly and appropriately to a patient's questions, discomfort and any problems that arise. Maternity nurses must pay close attention to detail and be proficient using technology for patient care and documenting medical charts.

Typical Steps for Becoming a Maternity Nurse

If you're interested in learning how to become a maternity nurse, the following steps can guide you.

  1. Take the prerequisites required by your nursing program. As a pre-nursing student you should plan to take all required prerequisites courses, such as anatomy, physiology, microbiology, math, chemistry, nursing-specific courses, and medical technology.

  2. Earn an associate or bachelor's degree. Your maternity nurse education requirements are to earn at least an associate nursing degree and, preferably, a registered nursing degree.

    • Associate degree in nursing (ADN). Usually a two- or three- year program at a community college, this program typically emphasizes practical instruction and applied training. Take any maternity nurse courses offered.
    • Bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN). Choose a registered nursing school accredited by Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, or both. Another option is to advance from an associate degree or diploma to a bachelor's degree through an accelerated RN-to-BSN program.

  3. Become licensed by passing the NCLEX-RN exam. Among maternity nurse qualifications and requirements, becoming a licensed registered nurse is paramount. To do this, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN. Licensing requirements vary by state, so check with the board of nursing in the state where you plan to practice.

  4. Find a registered nursing job to help you gain experience. Many maternity nurses start their careers as registered nurses. They build the clinical skills needed to move on to work in the maternity ward. Some hospitals have training programs that select registered nurses on staff and train them how to become labor and delivery nurses.

  5. Look for nursing jobs in labor and maternity wards. Once you have the experience and skills to work as a maternity nurse, it's time to search for a job in this field. The hospital where you work, other hospitals' websites, and online job postings are good resources.

Sources:

  • Registered Nurses, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
  • Summary Report for Registered Nurses, O*NET OnLine https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-1141.00, accessed December 2017
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