Working as a nurse while pregnant is a wake-up call for many registered nurses and advanced practice nurses. Often, after years of being able to push their bodies and minds to the limit, nurses are forced to adjust their routine to meet the needs of their pregnancies. In fact, studies suggest that completing clinical work while pregnant is associated with extreme fatigue, stress and burnout. Additionally, the nature of a nurse’s work, which includes time constraints, emotional and physical labor and shift work increases a nurses intention to quit. Nurses in a clinical area experience increased exposure to chemicals, infectious diseases and radiation. Finally, it has been suggested that nurses completing clinical work can experience a birth complication rate of up to 46%.
Therefore, knowing these risks, as a newly pregnant mother and nurse, I have attempted to focus on my health at work and compiled a list of tips for pregnant nurses to take care of themselves. The following are some tips for pregnant nurses and if you are not pregnant, read them anyway to encourage and be sympathetic to your pregnant colleagues.
Always Have Snacks
In pregnancy, your eating habits will change. I used to be able to go all day without food if I was busy at work, but it’s not possible for me anymore. It’s so important to listen to your body. Keep snacks in your pockets and if you don’t have time for a full break, step off the floor for a minute or two and eat something when you need it.
It was important to drink water prior to pregnancy, but it’s even more important now. The benefits of drinking water during pregnancy include combating fatigue, prevention of constipation and nutrient absorption. Working in a clinical area, I’ve found that wearing a mask makes it even more difficult to stay hydrated these days, but after a trip to the emergency department early in my second trimester, I make a conscious effort to drink more water. In fact, every hour or so, I step into the break room and drink a quick cup of water. Although I may not be meeting the requirement of eight to ten cups per day, I’m getting a lot more than I used to by taking a conscious break and staying on a schedule.
Wear Compression Socks
I was wearing compression socks anyway as a nurse, but if you were a nurse who didn’t wear them before, you will want them now. In pregnancy, blood volume increases by roughly 45%, but can fluctuate more or less. Additionally, your DVT risk is higher, your body weight is higher and your growing uterus can increase the venous pressure in your legs. Wearing compression stockings will make a notable difference in swelling and discomfort throughout the day.
Make yourself sit down. Are you standing up to chart? Sit down. Are you standing in rounds? Sit down. There are many times at work that we could actually sit down, we just do not do it. Make a conscious effort to take a seat in these moments. Your shift is like twelve to thirteen hours, you have plenty of time to be on your feet, so taking a seat can only benefit you.
Tell Your Boss and Coworkers
Do not hide the fact that you are pregnant from your boss and coworkers. You will need clinical support throughout every stage of your pregnancy. Also, your charge nurse might make exceptions with your patient assignments. For instance, pregnant nurses on my previous units typically did not care for patients requiring chemotherapy administration and also an attempt was made to keep them out of isolation rooms. As a pregnant nurse practitioner, my colleagues helped me by taking COVID patients as much as possible during my first trimester.
Finally, in case you do have a complication, need medical attention or even just lifting help, it’s beneficial for your coworkers to know you are pregnant.
Save Your PTO
In complete honesty, pregnancy benefits for nurses are below average nationally. In fact, most nurses do not even get a paid maternity leave and are required to use short term disability. Oftentimes, this is only 60% of full-time pay. If you are fortunate enough to be able to plan your pregnancy, consider saving your PTO (paid time off) as much as possible for days you are sick or in anticipation of pregnancy complications. While this is not fair, it is reality, and it’s important to know how you will pay for your maternity leave or any unexpected time off.
Know Your Limits
Nurses notoriously do not stop. This is one of our greatest strengths, but also one of our greatest downfalls. I’ve noticed throughout my pregnancy, I am undeniably more physically fragile than I was previously. My stamina has decreased and coping with various ligament and muscular aches and pains has been a challenge. Luckily, I work on a very supportive team, but I am aware that many nurses do not. It is imperative that you communicate your limits with your team and with yourself. If you are pregnant and you push too hard, you could cause major, irreversible, health issues. However, if you are able to communicate your limits to your employer and coworkers, there may be a light-duty position you can do for a few months prior to giving birth or other options to maintain your status.
If You Are A Nurse and Not Pregnant
If you are a nurse and not pregnant, help your pregnant coworkers. I truly never realized the physical and mental strain of being a pregnant nurse until I became one. I regret not actively checking on my pregnant coworkers more throughout the years. As women and nurses, we have to support and protect each other through our extremely taxing jobs for the sake of our health and safety.