A maternity nurse provides medical care to people throughout their reproductive journeys. This includes family planning and routine gynecological care to pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Also known as a Labor and Delivery or obstetric nurse, these healthcare professionals support patients with both routine and complicated pregnancies, deliveries, and postpartum periods.
If you love the idea of helping families welcome a new baby (or babies!), then maternity nursing might be right for you. This article will explain the steps involved in becoming a maternity nurse, including:
- What is a maternity nurse?
- What do maternity nurses do?
- Where do maternity nurses work?
- What are specific types of maternity nurses?
- How do you become a maternity nurse in 3 steps?
- What are additional requirements of maternity nurses?
- What are the salary and career outlooks for maternity nurses?
What is a maternity nurse?
A maternity nurse provides specialized medical care to a pregnant person and their newborn during pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum. Given the nature of this job, the maternity nurse actually has two (or more!) patients at a time: the pregnant person and the fetus or newborn.
Millions of babies are born in the United States every year, and pregnancy is responsible for a quarter of all hospital admissions. This means that maternity nurses play a crucial role in healthcare!
Qualities of a successful maternity nurse
Successful maternity nurses need advanced knowledge of women’s health issues, including pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum care, and newborn care.
Specific tasks and knowledge required in this role include:
- Understanding of prenatal, perinatal, and newborn conditions, diseases, and routine care.
- The ability to perform prenatal assessments, including vital signs, urine and blood tests, fetal ultrasounds, and heart rate monitoring.
- Understanding of how to support and coach laboring patients through both vaginal and surgical delivery.
- Strong assessment skills for newborns and the ability to perform newborn screenings, including APGAR scores, vital signs, genetic screenings, and bloodwork.
- Strong communication skills to facilitate care between all members of the healthcare team.
This is only a small portion of the amazing work that maternity nurses perform every day. Most of all, maternity nurses must enjoy working with families during an exciting and sometimes tumultuous time in their lives.
What do maternity nurses do?
Maternity nurses are involved in many parts of the patient journey, from sexual education and family planning through delivery and newborn care.
A day in the life of a maternity nurse
There are many kinds of maternity nurses. A nurse working in the labor and delivery (L&D) unit might start their day by getting reports from another nurse. Most L&D nurses work with just one or two patients at a time depending on patient acuity.
Next, the L&D nurse will assess their patient, including pain, vital signs, and fetal monitoring. The nurse may spend time discussing the patient’s desired birth plan regarding cord clamping, breastfeeding, and pain medication.
The nurse will regularly assess the patient during their shift to determine progress of delivery. This might include cervical checks, fetal descent, rupture of membranes, and close observations of the laboring patient for pain and coping.
If the patient or fetus shows signs of distress the nurse will intervene by changing the patient’s position or administering oxygen. The nurse must monitor the laboring patient closely for signs that suggest more support is needed.
When the patient is ready to deliver, the nurse prepares the room with all of the instruments and tools needed to ensure a safe delivery. The nurse provides coaching to help the laboring patient effectively deliver the infant.
After delivery, the nurse assesses the newborn and supports early breastfeeding if desired. The laboring patient is typically moved to the postpartum unit a few hours after delivery where the nurse gives report to the postpartum nurse.
Common conditions treated by maternity nurses
It might seem obvious that maternity nurses work with conditions related to female reproductive health, pregnancy, and newborns. The truth is that maternity nurses can work with many different types of patients and conditions.
For example, maternity nurses might work with:
- Patients with high-risk pregnancies or multiples who need to stay in the hospital for a long period of time for monitoring, surgical intervention, or early delivery
- Patients experiencing recurrent miscarriage or recovering from a stillbirth
- Patients who are acting as a surrogate (carrying a fetus for another family) or navigating adoption
- Newborns with intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), jaundice, cleft palate, prematurity, congenital anomalies, or endocrine disorders
- Patients recovering from cesarean delivery or trauma related to vaginal birth, like tearing or hemorrhage
Where do maternity nurses work?
Maternity nurses work with patients before, during, and after pregnancy. They might work in:
- Outpatient OB/GYN office
- Birthing centers
Some maternity nurses work in public health roles in the community, which may include tasks like vaccination, pregnancy wellness visits, or teaching classes about breastfeeding, labor and delivery, newborn care, or infant CPR and first aid.
What are specific types of maternity nurses?
Maternity nurses can work in many different areas or specialties, including:
- Outpatient obstetrical or women’s health clinics
- Fertility clinics
- High-risk pregnancy outpatient clinics or inpatient units
- Labor and delivery units
- Postpartum units
- As a lactation nurse either in the hospital or on an outpatient basis
- Specialty units for pre- and perinatal issues
Maternity nurses have a lot of flexibility within their field, and many nurses work in different areas over the course of their careers.
How do you become a maternity nurse in 3 steps?
Maternity nursing is a popular field, and it can take some strategic planning to break into this type of nursing. With a little preparation, however, you can achieve your goal of becoming a maternity nurse.
Step 1 – Become a registered nurse
The first step on your journey to becoming a maternity nurse is to obtain your Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and then pass the NCLEX.
Earn a BSN degree
There are many ways to obtain your BSN degree depending on your past educational and professional experience. There are traditional four-year degree programs, accelerated BSN programs (ABSN) for those with a prior bachelors degree in another field, or ADN-BSN and RN-BSN bridge programs.
It’s worth obtaining a BSN if possible. BSN-prepared nurses usually earn more and are eligible for increased benefits and responsibilities.
Pass the NCLEX-RN exam
After you obtain your BSN, it’s time to take the NCLEX-RN exam. This is a national exam that certifies nurses have a minimum level of knowledge needed to practice safely.
Once you pass your boards, you’re ready to apply for a nursing license in the state where you wish to practice. Now it’s time to find your first maternity nursing job! Check out our career resources for help finding and preparing for your next big career move.
Step 2 – Accumulate experience
Helpful skills and experience
Nurses who are interested in maternity can start by taking continuing education units on topics related to women’s health, pregnancy, birth, and newborn care.
If you’re still in nursing school, try to perform your senior practicum hours on an L&D or postpartum unit. You may also consider looking for work in an outpatient clinic to begin acquiring experience in this field.
Earn your CEUs free
Our easy online CE courses are ANCC-accredited and 100% free for nurses.
Changing specialty to a maternity nurse
Nurses with experience in other areas of nursing are great candidates for maternity nursing, particularly those with critical care or women’s health experience. Many hospitals also offer fellowships for nurses looking to switch to L&D.
Wondering what it takes to switch specialties? Nursing is a wonderful career because it allows for a great deal of flexibility. If you want to try a new specialty or are simply looking for a change of pace, it’s easy to explore new options.
Step 3 – Obtain certifications
In addition to Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), there are several different certifications available based on your career goals and specialty.
Certification for maternity nurses takes place through the National Certification Corporation. Each certification is specific to a different area of maternity nursing, and each requires at least 24 months of maternity nursing, 2000 practice hours, and passing an exam in that specialty.
Available certifications include:
- Registered Nurse Certified in Maternal and Newborn Nursing (RNC-MNN)
- Registered Nurse Certified in Inpatient Obstetric Nursing (RNC-OB)
- Registered Nurse in Inpatient Antepartum Nursing (RNC-AN)
- Electronic Fetal Monitoring (C-EFM)
There are additional certifications available for nurses who specialize in neonatal care, like Neonatal Resuscitation Certification (NRC), Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing (RNC-NIC), and Low Risk Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing (RNC-LRN).
Nurses who wish to specialize in breastfeeding may consider becoming certified as an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant, which is the international standard for breastfeeding support. In order to sit for the exam, you must take 95 hours of lactation-specific coursework and demonstrate anywhere from 300-1000 hours of direct breastfeeding support experience.
What are additional requirements of maternity nurses?
In addition to providing exceptional care to patients throughout their reproductive journeys, maternity nurses must possess a number of other skills, like:
- Great communication skills
- Strong patient education skills
- Compassion and love for women’s health issues
One other important skill is the ability to provide self-care. The majority of patients in this field are healthy and undergoing a normal biological process Occasionally there are cases with difficult outcomes, like repeated infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, serious postpartum complications or death.
Other patients present challenging comorbidities and psychosocial factors, like homelessness, drug abuse, mental health illnesses, or serious medical issues. Nurses in this field must be prepared to protect themself from the emotional labor involved in maternity nursing.
What are the salary and career outlooks for maternity nurses?
Maternity nursing is a competitive and sought-after field. While the average base pay for RNs is $82,750, nurses with additional certifications and expertise can reasonably expect to earn even more. The career outlook for RNs is expected to be 9% between 2020 and 2030. Overall, the career outlook for maternity nursing is strong.
The average salary for a maternity nurse is $68,854. The top 5 cities are:
|Santa Rosa, CA||$84,095|
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Maternity nursing can be stressful and fast-paced, but many nurses report the benefits of working with new parents and babies are incredibly rewarding.
While there’s limited research on maternity nurse job satisfaction specifically, a recent study shows that between 94-96% of registered nurses are satisfied with their jobs. Another survey showed that nurse-midwives report above average satisfaction with their career opportunities and stress levels.
Maternity nurses have many options for career advancement. Some nurses obtain additional certifications and training to take on managerial roles in their clinic or unit. Others move into research or teaching roles.
Some nurses pursue an advanced degree as a nurse-midwife. Another option is to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), which enables nurses to work as specialized lactation nurses either in the hospital or on an outpatient basis or to serve patients in their homes and community.
Are you ready to explore maternity nurse jobs in your area? Create a profile with Incredible Health today and discover your next career move!
Top jobs on Incredible Health
Columbia, MD | $61,000 to $128,000 /year
Jacksonville Beach, FL | $55,000 to $90,000 /year
Plano, TX | $54,000 to $111,000 /year
Denton, TX | $54,000 to $104,000 /year
Fernandina Beach, FL | $55,000 to $90,000 /year
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- “How Nurses Feel About Their Jobs.” Advisory Board. Accessed May 30, 2022.
- Maternity nurse salary. ziprecruiter.com. Accessed June 1, 2022.
- National Certification Corporation. Accessed May 30, 2022.
- “Neonatal Resuscitation Certification.” ACLS.org. Accessed May 30, 2022.
- “Nurse Midwife Overview.” US News and World Reports. Accessed May 30, 2022.
- Photo by freestocks on Unsplash