How to Become a Maternity Nurse
A maternity nurse is a nursing professional who provides care to expectant mothers before, during and after childbirth. Most maternity nurses will focus on supporting women during the labor and delivery process – working at the patient’s side to monitor both mother and baby, and to encourage, coach, educate and support. Others may care for women who are experiencing complications before birth or provide postpartum (after delivery) care. The work of maternity nurses helps ensure a safe delivery and healthy start in an unpredictable and sometimes stressful work environment.
Maternity nurses are experts at assessing and monitoring patients. Throughout the labor and delivery period, they keep a close eye on the mother’s blood pressure, fetal heartbeat, contraction patterns, and other vital signs. Based on their observations, they formulate and implement individualized care plans for their patients and communicate with other members of the healthcare team including the doctor, midwife or anesthetist as needed. Where permitted by law, nurses may administer a variety of medications – like those used to induce labor or help control pain.
Many types of nurses can play a role in maternity care including licensed practical nurses (LPNs), registered nurses (RNs), nurse practitioners (NPs), clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) and certified nurse midwives (CNMs). Most work under the supervision of an obstetrician as a key member of the labor and delivery care team. Those with high-level training (like the nurse midwife) can function independently – making decisions, prescribing medications, delivering babies and even attending as the primary caregiver at home births.
Maternity nursing is a fast-paced specialty that involves a great deal of patient contact. These nurses take great pride in bringing new life into the world every day. They are proud that their care helps families move past fear and anxiety to experience the excitement and joy of this special time.
As experts in the care of women and children, maternity nurses can be found in any setting that provides reproductive health services, including hospitals, schools, doctor’s offices, outpatient clinics and patients’ homes. Where permitted by law, nurse practitioners and nurse midwives may run their own practices.
The work environments and responsibilities of maternity nurses vary greatly based on certification level and training:
- LPNs tend to play a supporting role in labor and delivery settings by monitoring vital signs, assisting with procedures and performing administrative tasks. Today, most hospital settings are choosing to hire fewer LPNs and more RNs because of their limited skill set.
- RNs are responsible for planning and delivering patient care in labor and delivery units, operating rooms and nurseries and are the backbone of most maternity units.
- Advanced practice nurses (NPs, CNSs and CNMs) are found in many outpatient settings, including community health centers, obstetric medical offices and private practices. Many also work as educators, policy makers and researchers.
Maternity nurses employed by hospitals typically work extended shifts that cover nights, weekends and holidays. They also spend some of their time "on call," meaning they may be summoned to work on short notice.
Many community colleges and vocational schools offer LPN training. Programs can be completed in about a year and include both classroom and hands-on learning.
To become an RN, candidates must earn a two-year associate's degree or four-year bachelor’s degree from a state-approved institution. Training programs include courses in nursing and the life sciences as well as clinical rotations in various areas of health care.
Advanced practice nurses hold a master’s degree or doctorate as well as board certification in a nursing specialty. This career path requires 2-5 years of post-bachelor’s study at the graduate level.
Most nursing students complete clinical rotations in labor and delivery, but the experience isn’t near enough to prepare them for work in the field. In many cases, employers will prefer that nurses have 1 to 2 years of medical surgical or other nursing experience before applying for a maternity position. Others will offer on-the-job training to nurses who are new to the maternity setting. This typically lasts about three months for entry-level nurses and 6-8 weeks for more experienced nurses, but orientation should be customized to the skills and confidence of the nurse.
Graduate programs in nursing (leading to certification as advanced practice nurses) require RN licensure and work experience in an acute care setting.
Licensing and/or Certification
Licensure of LPNs and RNs is mandatory in all states. While regulations vary, candidates must at minimum hold a degree from an accredited nursing program and pass the NCLEX exam. In addition, many acute care facilities (like hospitals) are requiring nurses to pursue national certification in their specialty area. Organizations like the National Certification Corporation (NCC) and others will accept nurses to sit for the exam once they have worked 2,000 hours in their specialty field. Having certified nurses helps hospitals pursuing magnet status reach their goal. Magnet status is awarded to hospitals that provide outstanding nursing care and positive clinical outcomes.
Advanced practice nurses (APRNs) must be board certified in a nursing specialty. Qualifying exams are administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. APRNs will need to abide by the practice laws of their state, which vary widely.
All nurses will need to maintain the appropriate number of continuing education classes each year and avoid sanctions to keep their license active.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
Maternity nurses need to be physically and emotionally resilient and possess excellent interpersonal and organizational skills. The ability to teach is an asset because maternity nurses must educate patients and their families in a short time frame. Most patients stay in the hospital 2 to 4 days and there’s a lot to learn before they head home with a new baby. Strong critical-thinking skills, the ability to delegate, and communicate clearly and professionally helps these nurses care for adults and babies in all stages of health and illness.
Opportunities for Advancement
Experienced maternity nurses may advance to leadership positions in patient care, public health or health care administration. RNs who desire greater independence in their practice may return to school to pursue a master’s degree or doctorate. Advanced practice nurses sometimes leave the clinical setting for careers in management, research or academia or to open private practices.
If you would like to gain the necessary education to become a licensed vocational nurse, we highly recommend that you check out our free School Finder Tool located HERE.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, LPNs typically earn between $31,000 and $58,000 as of 2014, depending on their experience and responsibilities.
The median annual salary for RNs is $66,640, according to the BLS as of May 2014. Earnings are usually best in large, urban hospitals and increase commensurate with education, experience, and geographic location.
Advance practice nurses like nurse midwives can expect to earn $65,000 to $130,000 annually.
Employment of LPNs and RNs is expected to grow by 25% and 19% respectively between 2012 and 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is considered faster than average for all occupations, though not all of this growth is in the maternity setting. The BLS expects a 29% growth in employment for nurse midwives.
Factors driving this demand include the large number of nurses expected to retire soon as well as increased access to national health insurance and subsequent care that wasn’t available before. This will open additional doors for advanced practice nurses, as research proves that they can provide safe, effective, cost-efficient care.