Nurse Types / Postpartum Nurse
Choosing this nursing specialty is easy if you enjoy working with mothers and newborns. Nursing students can opt for a preceptorship or internship in a postpartum unit to learn how to care for mothers and babies in the days immediately following birth.
In addition to bedside care, postpartum nurses also monitor their patients for signs of postpartum complications and emergencies.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- What is a postpartum nurse?
- What do postpartum nurses do?
- Where do postpartum nurses work?
- How do you become a postpartum nurse in 3 steps?
- What are additional requirements of postpartum nurses?
- What are the salary and career outlooks for postpartum nurses?
- How can postpartum nurses advance their careers?
What is a postpartum nurse?
A postpartum nurse has one of the best jobs in the nursing industry: caring for newborns and their mothers after birth. As a postpartum nurse, you ensure both mother and baby aren’t having any complications.
You’ll provide bedside care and offer mothers tips on self-care and how to nurture their babies. You also might be tasked with helping mothers connect with inpatient and outpatient lactation consultants to get breastfeeding support.
Qualities of a successful postpartum nurse
The number-one requirement of becoming a postpartum nurse is you must enjoy working with newborns. You are directly responsible for their emotional and physical care in the days following birth. Other qualities postpartum nurses need include:
- Compassion. All nurses must be compassionate toward their patients. New mothers may need extra coaching and care to boost their confidence.
- Patience. New moms – especially first-time moms – may need a lot of reassurance as they learn to care for their babies.
- Quick-thinking skills. Emergencies for mom or baby can happen without much warning. You need to be able to think on your feet if the need arises.
What do postpartum nurses do?
Being a postpartum nurse is never dull. Ensuring mothers have the support needed to recover from birth emotionally and physically, is one of many duties in this specialty. As a postpartum nurse, you’ll be by your patient’s side from the moment they leave labor and delivery until they are ready to go home with their bundle of joy.
Some of the most common duties you can expect to perform include:
- Administ any prescribed medications to both mothers and newborns
- Assist new moms with breastfeeding, bottle feeding and self-care
- Create or follow care plans for both mom and baby
- Educate mothers about bathing, feeding, infant safety seats, circumsion care and umbilical cord care
- Monitor vital signs for mothers and newborns
- Watch for signs of postpartum depression in mothers or distress in babies
- Provide physical and emotional support for mothers whose infant may be in the NICU
A day in the life of a postpartum nurse
Your typical day as a postpartum nurse depends on how many mothers deliver and the patient-to-staff ratio. Some days you may only be responsible for one or two moms and newborns. Other days, you may have four or more patients, sometimes with twins, to closely monitor after birth.
Roughly 40% of your time is spent delivering hands-on care to moms and babies. If the labor and delivery facility where you work is breastfeeding-friendly, you can expect to spend 30% of your shift assisting with breastfeeding. The rest of the time is spent monitoring patient vitals and performing other regular duties like:
- Assessing/wound care C-section incisions
- Monitoring blood loss after delivery
- Dispensing pain medication
- Educating new parents about infant care
- Helping new mothers cope with physical and emotional aspects of birth recovery
Common conditions treated by postpartum nurses
Pain management is one of the most common conditions you’ll treat as a postpartum nurse. New moms – especially those who had cesarean section (C-section) deliveries – may be in a great deal of pain after delivery. You’ll consult with the rest of the medical team to determine how best to manage mom’s pain in a way that’s safe for the baby.
Other conditions postpartum nurses treat include:
- C-section complications
- Hypovolemic shock
- Postpartum hemorrhage
- Postpartum urinary incontinence or retention
- Postpartum infections
- Neonatal jaundice or infection
Where do postpartum nurses work?
Postpartum nurses can work anywhere babies are born. Birthing centers, community clinics, hospital labor and delivery units, and physicians’ offices all need postpartum nurses. One area where demand for postpartum nurses has grown is birthing centers.
As a postpartum nurse, you’ll work closely with OB-GYNs, labor and delivery specialty nurses, and lactation consultants.
Closely related fields
Postpartum nurses are a type of post-natal nursing professional. Other nursing professions closely related include:
- Pediatric RNs
- Neonatal intensive care nurses
- Pediatric intensive care nurses
- Neonatal care nurses
- Labor and delivery nurses
How do you become a postpartum nurse in 3 steps?
Postpartum nurses are Registered Nurses (RNs) that specialize in postpartum care of mothers and newborns. It can take between four and six years to become a postpartum nurse. Your path depends on whether you study full or part-time and whether you pursue an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
Step 1 – Become a Registered Nurse (RN)
Before you can start your career as a postpartum nurse, you must first obtain your RN license. There are two ways you can do this: earning an ADN or BSN. Some states require RNs to earn a BSN, while others have not yet regulated that level of education. It’s best to check with the board of nursing in the state you intend to practice to verify licensure obligations.
Earn a BSN degree
Earning a BSN degree has many benefits. It opens the door to more employment opportunities since more than 80% of healthcare organizations in the U.S. require RNs to hold an advanced degree. You’ll learn critical thinking and leadership skills beyond what is traditionally taught in an ADN nursing program. With a BSN, you also can earn specialty certification.
If you’re already an RN but you don’t have a BSN, you can work while continuing your education through an RN to BSN program.
If you have a bachelor’s degree in a field besides nursing, there is a program for you. You can obtain an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing in one to two years!
Pass the NCLEX-RN exam
Passing the NCLEX-RN exam is the final step to becoming a licensed RN. The exam focuses on four areas:
- Health promotion and maintenance
- Physiological integrity
- Providing a safe and effective care environment
- Psychological integrity
You can take the NCLEX-RN exam more than once if you fail to pass the first time. You must wait 45 days between attempts.
Step 2 – Accumulate experience
After becoming a licensed RN, you’ll want to work in a healthcare environment that helps you build valuable skills in postpartum nursing. Working in a maternity unit of a hospital or a birthing center alongside senior postpartum nurses can help RNs gain the experience needed to be successful.
Helpful skills and experience
Some of the most helpful skills you can acquire on your journey to becoming a postpartum nurse include:
- Effective multitasking abilities so that you can juggle the needs of more than one mom and newborn.
- Proficient patient assessment knowledge that allows you to quickly determine if your patients need emergency intervention.
- Strong interpersonal skills that allow you to communicate clearly with your patients and members of the medical team.
Changing your specialty to postpartum nursing
If you’re already working as an RN under a different nursing specialty, it’s possible to change to postpartum nursing. You can prepare for the switch with targeted continuing education courses that help you build skills for your new postpartum nursing career.
Step 3 – Obtain certifications
You’re not required to earn certifications to work as a postpartum nurse but doing so can enhance your skills and professional standing. Postpartum nurses have two different certification options available should they choose to pursue them.
- Electronic Fetal Monitoring (C-EFM®) certification proves your competency with electronic fetal monitoring devices and the interpretation of the data they produce.
- Maternal Newborn Nursing (RNC-MNN®) certification tests specialty care knowledge about birth mothers and babies from birth to six weeks in a hospital or outpatient setting.
What are additional requirements for postpartum nurses?
While not required, postpartum nurses who pursue advanced education can open the doors to higher salaries and more plentiful career opportunities. Options include pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). They can also pursue extra courses postpartum nurses are certified in, like Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS), Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP) and Basic Life Support (CPR).
What are the salary and career outlooks for postpartum nurses?
Like all RNs, postpartum nurses are in high demand. Employment of postpartum nurses is expected to rise by 6% between 2021 and 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Salaries for postpartum nursing positions vary depending on location and employer. Postpartum nurses usually earn between $69,021 and $85,878 per year. Nurses can earn even more with advanced degrees and certifications.
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Very few surveys exist about job satisfaction for postpartum nurses. A survey from 2015 of more than 9,000 RNs revealed 85% were satisfied with their career choice. However, a November 2021 study suggested burnout may be high among nurses in this field.
How can postpartum nurses advance their careers?
There are many advancement opportunities in the field of postpartum nursing. You can earn your MSN or a DNP, which would allow you to work in leadership or research roles. You also could become a nurse educator, training students to become postpartum nurses.
Specialty certifications also allow you to advance in your nursing career. Lastly, you can consider going into private practice if you have an MSN or DNP with a valid RN license.
Catharine Houstoun, RN contributed to this report.
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- Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash