Anticipating the birth of a child is not only one of the most wondrous and thrilling experiences in human existence, but it can also be one of the most nerve-wracking and precarious. It should be no surprise, then, that for most people the presence of trained medical staff is considered to be essential, and also a source of great comfort and reassurance. But how can maternal and neonatal nurses ensure they provide the highest level of care, and what kind of roles do they usually fulfill?
In this article, we look at the typical duties and responsibilities of maternity and neonatal nurses, as well as how they interact with other health professionals such as midwives and obstetricians. We also examine the typical educational path for someone who would like to work in this field, the importance of relevant experience and lifelong learning, and what kind of skills and abilities matter most.
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A Vital Role
Nurses working in maternity and neonatal care play a crucial role in supporting pregnancies, helping to bring babies to term, and assisting in those vital first few days, weeks and months as both baby and mother adjust to their new reality. In the initial phase — during pregnancy — nurses are, together with the treating physician, responsible for guiding the parents through both the ultrasounds, which help to monitor the development of the fetus, detect any potential abnormalities, and ensure that the expectant mother is healthy and preparing for the birth. This includes helping them to develop a birth plan and prepare their home for the new arrival.
During the birth itself, nurses are again vital, not only monitoring the condition of both mother and baby and working in cooperation with the obstetrician, but also often helping with delivery and immediate aftercare. Finally, once the baby is born, the mother will often rely on the help of nurses to assist them through the difficult first hours in the hospital. Nurses often also provide crucial assistance with breastfeeding, particularly to first-time mothers, and may be called on to offer advice in other areas such as nutrition, postpartum recovery, or developing a special bond with the new baby.
That is not to say that all the work is down to the nurse alone. As well as the physician, nurses typically work in close collaboration with a range of other health professionals, including midwives, anesthetists and administrative staff. Naturally, in both internal discussions and when speaking to the patient and their family, clear communication is key, and nurses have to build up an excellent working relationship with all their colleagues.
Communication and cooperation are vital in all pregnancies, of course, but become even more important in the event of complications, such as preeclampsia or premature birth. Here, nurses are very often responsible for discussing the issue with the patient and their immediate family, who are often, understandably, concerned or distressed. In many cases, decisions also must be made quickly in order to preserve the health of both mother and baby, with the nurse often required to liaise between the physician, patient and other medical staff to ensure the best possible outcome.
Preparing to Succeed
Of course, when it comes to good nursing, preparation is everything. There are a number of potential routes into nursing — most prospective nurses will complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, while accelerated BSN (ABSN) programs are also available for students who already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree.
In each case, nurses receive a thorough grounding in all aspects of providing basic medical care, as well as clinical experience. At Rockhurst University in Kansas, for example, graduates emerge with a sophisticated understanding of the essential theories, concepts and skills required in professional nursing, with a particular focus on key concepts such as aging, health promotion, and restoration. In addition, students have the opportunity to focus on topics such as maternal health and prepare to meet the nursing needs of childbearing and childrearing families.
There is also an option to complete the course online, something that ensures a higher degree of flexibility compared to on-campus degrees — perfect for students who have significant work or family commitments to accommodate. Furthermore, working conditions for nurses are, in many cases, very positive. The salary of nurses in Idaho or other states where nurses are in high demand and housing costs are not as high as in the larger cities, nurses can enjoy a particularly high standard of living. There is also a wide range of career pathways available, from primary care in hospitals to outpatient or consultancy work, as well as opportunities for leadership and management positions.
Finding the Right Pathway
Of course, graduate nurses will still have much to learn, and experience is a vital part of the process. Often, fresh graduates are greatly aided by more experienced colleagues through either informal discussions or structured mentoring programs, while peer-to-peer communication is also an important source of support. Lifelong learning also plays an important role — the very best nurses tend to take an open, inquisitive approach to their work, and take the time to continuously improve their knowledge and abilities through further training, private reading or attending conferences and meetings in their chosen field of expertise.
Nurses who do choose to work in maternity and neonatal care, in particular, are certainly taking on a great level of responsibility. As a result, they need to be not only highly empathetic and excellent communicators, but also reliable, dedicated and extremely well-prepared for the challenge. Yet there can be no doubt that helping babies come into the world is one of the most challenging and important callings that a person can choose. For this reason, becoming a nurse in maternity and neonatal care will continue to be one of the most sought-after, rewarding and well-respected professions in the US.