How To Prepare An Emergency Supply Kit In Case Of A Disaster

How To Prepare An Emergency Supply Kit In Case Of A Disaster

*This post contains affiliate links.  For more information about my disclosure policy click here.

Do you have an emergency supply kit ready to go in a moment’s notice? 

In 2017 the United States was hit by 3 of the largest hurricanes to have hit the US in over a century.  Natural disasters will happen, but it seems as if there have been an unusual amount of them happening all at the same time.

These disasters are devastating. Hundreds of thousands of people have been left without basic resources such as food, water, or electricity and are in total crisis mode.

I had to ask myself, is my family prepared if we had a major emergency such as a natural disaster or terrorist attack?

What will you do if there is an emergency?

Flooded town

One of the best ways to prepare for an emergency is to have an emergency supply kit ready.

We live in Los Angeles County which means our home sits right in the middle of earthquake country. The experts have been saying that we are due for the “big one” at any time. We can’t predict when it will actually happen, of course. But we can do our best to prepare in case it does.

I like to think of myself as a person who is ready for an emergency. After all, I am an emergency room nurse. I’m used to dealing with some level of trauma and bodily injury during my twelve hour shifts. In the hospital we have all the training and supplies we need to be ready for (almost) anything.

I have plenty of first aid disposables stashed away in our garage. Sure, I can start some IV fluids, give CPR, or assist with injuries or first aid. But what about food? Water? Other emergency supplies? I really hadn’t given those much thought.

So this week I set out to research everything that I would need to make sure my family was prepared for disaster at home. I scored the internet long into the night after I put our daughter to bed. I read through FEMA, The CDC and The Department of Homeland Security’s recommendations for what my family would need in the case of an emergency. To my dismay, I realized that were not ready for an emergency.  At all.

You can buy an emergency supply kit online.

There are lots of websites online that sell emergency supply kits. Many of them cost from $100 up into the thousands, which may not be affordable for some people. In addition, they still may not include all of the supplies you may need such as food, water, medications or other personal items.

American Family Safety is a great resource and they have customizable emergency kits for home and school.

If purchasing an emergency supply kit is not an option for you, why not build you own kit and customize it for your needs? I gathered the following information from several websites and I have resources listed at the bottom of this post.

What To Put In A Basic Emergency Supply Kit:

water bottles on store shelves

The dollar store is a great place to stock up on gallons of emergency water. In the wake of disaster it is likely that stores will run out of water and other supplies.

Water

The CDC and FEMA state that we should have a minimum of a three day supply of water and food for everyone in the family, including pets. This water is for both drinking and sanitation. Of course it never hurts to prepare with more.

You should have at least the equivalent of 1 gallon of water per person/per day. For our family of (almost) 4 that means we should have at least 12 gallons of water stashed away to have the minimum three day supply.

Food

It is possible that electricity could be out for several days in an emergency, which means perishables in the fridge and freezer will go bad. Cooking is also difficult without electricity so the foods should be “ready to eat.” In the case of a major emergency non-perishable foods become important for survival.

Emergency food supplies:

trail mix as emergency food

Sealed trail mix is a good non-perishable food to keep in your emergency kit.

  • Canned fruits, veggies
  • Canned beans, pastas
  • Dry cereal, granola
  • Nut butters
  • Trail mix, dried fruits
  • Protein bars, granola bars
  • Non-perishable pasteurized milk
  • Food for infants (formula, jars)
  • Food for pets

The Department of Homeland Security’s website, Ready.gov states that you should try to avoid foods that make you thirsty, so you don’t end up drinking all your water.

Other emergency supplies:

  • Flashlights
  • First aid kit
  • Cash
  • Whistle (to signal for help)
  • Moist towelettes or baby wipes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Can opener
  • Cell phone chargers and backup battery
  • Medications
  • Glasses, contact lens holder and solution
  • Infant needs: diapers, wipes, bottles, formula
  • Fire extinguisher
  • A lighter or matches in a dry container
  • Paper cups, plates, paper towels, utensils
  • Paper, pencil
  • Blankets, warm clothes

Keep these items in a designated place in your home and don’t use them unless there is an emergency. You don’t want to go to your stash in the event of a natural disaster to find that portions of your emergency kit are missing.

You can’t plan a disaster. But you can prepare for it. Take some time this weekend to prepare a basic emergency supply kit. You will thank yourself later for being responsible and taking care of your loved ones in advance of a disaster.

Do you have any additional thoughts on preparing an emergency supply kit? Or have you been through a disaster and have any recommendations to help be further prepared for a catastrophic event?

Sarah, Mother Nurse Love

Resources:

Ready.gov (Department of Homeland Security)

FEMA.gov

CDC Emergency

The Joys Of Pregnancy At 24 Weeks

The Joys Of Pregnancy At 24 Weeks

I am happy to announce that our pregnancy is entering its 24th week! Our little boy is growing faster by the day and weighs about 1.2 pounds. In a few more weeks I will be starting the 3rd and final trimester. Its all uphill from here!

Pedometer on Iphone

This is the app on my iphone. It reminds me to keep moving. Today at work I got 17,000 steps!

Sarcasm aside, I’m actually feeling pretty good these days, with the exception of a little fatigue and annoying pregnancy brain.  My bump is finally pretty obvious now so I so I can walk around proudly displaying a pregnant belly instead of just feeling full-figured and puffy.

I am still practicing yoga and working out when I can. My goal is to walk 10-15,000 steps a day, so I started using the activity app on my I-phone to track my progress. I admit, I am becoming so much dorkier as a second time mommy-to-be. I’m just a busy mom with a toddler trying to take good care of herself when she can.

Thankfully, this pregnancy has been pretty non-eventful. All of my prenatal testing has come back showing no signs of any health issues. Each appointment has gone smoothly without any big scares or hiccups (unlike my last pregnancy, which is a long story for another post!). I know nothing is 100% certain, but I feel optimistic that things will run relatively smoothly this time around (fingers crossed!).

The compression stockings are back (pregnancy is sexy!)

Last week I had to bring my lovely waist-high, graduated compression stockings back out of the drawer (they have been in hiding since the birth of our daughter in October of 2015).

As a nurse who works 12 hour shifts at a busy level 1 Trauma hospital, I have been a little concerned with the amount of time I spend in my feet everyday. I am specifically concerned about varicose veins which are a common side effect of pregnancy (and being a busy nurse). Pregnancy increases your blood volume by 50% and I’m also carrying an extra 12 pounds right now so its no wonder that my legs swell after 12 hours of being on my feet!

Woman wearing compressing stockings.

It just doesn’t get any sexier than maternity compression stockings (not my legs). The joys of pregnancy are many.

Alas! Compression stockings to my rescue! My legs are so much more energized at the end of a long shift after wearing compression stockings on then they are without them. They don’t feel swollen and they actually look visibly less swollen too.

I am sure you are profoundly intrigued and want details so I’ll tell you more about my compression stockings. I wear the Jobst 20-30 Waist High Closed Toe Compression Maternity Pantyhose. It just doesn’t get any sexier then that! Just a word of warning for ladies needing compression hosiery: this is not a place you want to be thrifty. I have tried the cheaper versions and quite frankly, they suck and are a waste of money. Mine are so well-made and will actually last through an entire pregnancy, unlike the cheaper ones.

I look like a whale trying to put them on in the morning. They are so tight on my legs it takes me about 6 minutes to get them all the way up (believe me, its a treat to watch!). Per recommendation, I put them on before I even get out of bed in the morning. Before the blood even has a chance to swim around my ankles.

I have a love/hate relationship with these darn things, but they work wonders I tell you. So I will continue to wear them until I stop working towards the end of this pregnancy.

More joys of pregnancy:  heart burn and nosebleeds

Due to daily, mild-to-severe bouts of heartburn, I have Tums strategically stashed in my work bag, the kitchen cupboard, the diaper bag, and at my bedside. Heartburn is just another great side effect of all those fantastic pregnancy hormones!

At about this time in my first pregnancy I started having frequent heartburn, which is something I never have had non-pregnant. Unfortunately, as I get bigger, it will only get worse.  Another one of the awesome joys of pregnancy that I get to deal with!

On another note, I luckily haven’t experienced any nosebleeds this yet. As mentioned earlier one of many fun physiologic changes during pregnancy is that your blood volume doubles. So nose bleeds can be unfortunate side effect. My last pregnancy I got a few nose bleeds right before laying down to sleep at night. Then I was up for over an hour each time trying to stop them!

VBAC or c-section?

At my 22 week appointment my OBGYN asked me of I wanted to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) or another c-section. She really caught by surprise by this question.

I was under the impression that since my last pregnancy resulted in a c-section (due to a placental abruption at 33 weeks) that I had to have another c-section. In fact, I thought it was considered dangerous not to. Friends have told me that they had to have c-sections for their subsequent babies since they had one the first time.

My OB explained that I was still a good candidate for vaginal birth since I didn’t have a situation that prevented me from having a natural birth while laboring in my first pregnancy. Like, for example, if the baby wouldn’t descend down the birth canal, or I had gestational diabetes or severe preclampsia while I was trying to deliver naturally. She said that for women in my situation, most are still able to have a successful vaginal delivery. (I’ve since done a bit of research, and it does look like the statistics are in my favor).

I never even had an opportunity to go into labor with my first pregnancy. Instead, I had a freaky, rare and life-threatening situation called a placental abruption at 33 weeks. (Essentially, my placenta detached from my womb. Not good.  You can read about that here.)

By some existential miracle our daughter is OK. She is perfect, actually. She is smart, funny, precocious, brave, and absolutely amazing in 1000 different ways. On Halloween Day she will be two years old.

Anyways, back to my VBAC versus c-section decision. I have done a lot of thinking about it lately. Due to the fact that I will have a 2 year-old at home to take care of in addition to a newborn, I have decided to forgo my original c-section plan in lieu of a new VBAC plan.

My reasoning: a c-section requires major abdominal surgery that cuts through many abdominal muscles resulting in weeks of recovery. I want to be able to take care of my family the best I can when I get back home. Another c-section will make that even more difficult for me.

So my new plan is to have a regular, vaginal delivery. That is, if I can help it. If there is any concern whatsoever over the health of the baby, by all means, I’m 100% all for having another c-section. Priority #1 is to have another healthy baby.

There is no rest with a toddler in a second pregnancy

Zoe and Mom sleeping on couch

It just doesn’t get any better than a sleeping baby Zoe.

I don’t have the time to rest like I did in my first pregnancy. I do get tired and nap on my days off when my daughter naps. Working in the ER now is also much more tiring. It’s doable, just harder.

Fortunately, in some ways I also feel more resilient then before. I know what to expect this time around so there are fewer surprises. I’m not checking my baby apps every week to see what developmental stage our baby is in (I wouldn’t have the time to anyway). I just get to be pregnant and focus on what ever is going on that day.

That may be the biggest unexpected benefit of pregnancy the second time around. I’m forced to live in the present because I’m so busy and I have an extremely energetic toddler to take care of.

And I’m feeling the baby kick a lot! I love that part.

Weird side effects and all, I am glad to have the opportunity to go through pregnancy a second time. This will be the last time so I’m trying to enjoy it while I can.

Thanks for reading!

Sarah, Mother Nurse Love

Pregnancy Brain:  Is It Real?

Pregnancy Brain: Is It Real?

*This post contains affiliate links.  For more information about my disclosure policy click here.

Is “pregnancy brain” a real phenomenon?

As I enter my 24th week of pregnancy I have found myself being unusually forgetful, feeling more mentally foggy, and even using the wrong words in conversation. More then a few times in recent days I have felt like I might even be losing my mind.

Over the years I have had many friends joke about having so-called “pregnancy brain.” But like many other things people say about becoming a Mom, I thought it was just a pregnancy myth or an excuse for lazy thinking.

The curse of the pregnancy brain

Here are a few examples of my experience recently with what I assume has to be pregnancy brain:

Two nights ago, a physician at a vendor dinner program asked me the names of some of the physicians that I work with in our emergency department. Suddenly, my mind couldn’t recall the names of anyone I work with. Literally, not one single person! Mind you, I have been working in the ER at my hospital for 9 months and know the entire department by name very well. My brain just froze.

At work recently, I was trying to think of the gelatinous, clear, rubbery food we often give patients in the hospital to eat while they are on a clear liquid diet. 10 minutes later it came to me. Jell-O. Duh!

While shopping for groceries I referred to blueberries as strawberries. Then at home I referred to our tile as carpet. Then, at lunch with friends a few days ago I stated that Zoe was going to have a little sister soon, but I’m having a boy! And it still took me a few seconds to realize it and correct myself.

Pregnancy brain has affected my writing as well. I will come up with an amazing idea that I would love to research and write about. Then when I finally sit down to organize my thoughts I can’t think of what I wanted to say. It is so annoying!

Brain changes during pregnancy

Neurons in the brain

Neurons in the brain. Pregnancy doesn’t “shrink” the brain, but it does temporarily restructure it a bit. Why? Studies say it’s nature’s way of helping us adjust to motherhood and protect our babies.

A 2016 study in Nature Neuroscience showed that pregnancy causes substantial changes in brain structure. The primary changes included “reductions in grey matter volume in regions subserving social cognition.”

(For those who don’t know, grey matter is the “thinking” part of the brain, and a major component of the central nervous system. It is where our intelligence lives.)

The study found that pregnancy causes new mothers’ brains to be more efficiently wired in areas that allow them, for example, to respond to their infant’s needs or be more alert to dangers in their infants’ environment. In other words, the brain doesn’t actually “shrink,” it just restructures it self a bit.

Essentially, the loss in grey matter in the mother was due to those same brain regions responding to their babies post birth. In fact, a few studies I read stated that the loss in grey matter was directly correlated to the mothers’ attachment to her child postpartum.

At first read, it appeared as if mother nature was temporarily lowering my IQ a bit in order to help me be more attentive to my babies’ needs after they arrive.  Awesome!

Joking aside, at least I have an explanation for my mental fogginess and word confusion. I am actually kind of relieved that I’m not just losing my mind!

Pregnancy brain may actually be a good thing

The same study also found that the grey matter changes actually predicted how maternally attached we are to our babies’ after birth. This was thought to be nature’s way of transitioning mothers into the ginormous changes that come with being a new mom.

This actually makes sense to me. Anyone who has been a mother knows that the life changes that come with a baby are huge. At least for a good while.

There is some good news though. They found that the grey matter reductions lasted for two years after birth. So I won’t have permanent brain damage after all. Phew!

Additional benefits to pregnancy brain

Baby Zoe and Mom

Studies are showing that maternal brain changes last two years post birth.

Laura Glynn, a professor and chair of the department of psychology at Chapman University, stated that not only does pregnancy brain exist, but there are important benefits to a vulnerable infant. For example, pregnant women are “better at recognizing fear, anger and disgust” which may aid mothers in using their emotions to ensure their infant’s survival.

In addition, Glynn stated that the pregnancy hormones estrogen and oxytocin are associated with heightened maternal responsiveness and sensitivity to the environment and infants’ needs.

There are several articles connecting pregnancy brain with gaining additional ability to be a better mother. In fact, the more I read about pregnancy brain the more I think it may not be such a negative thing after all. If it can help me be a better mother, especially in those first few crazy, sleep deprived months, perhaps I can even accept it as a blessing and not a curse.

Managing pregnancy brain

I now know that there are actual benefits to pregnancy brain. But I still need to continue my job as responsible mother of a toddler and ER nurse, and be a functional human being. So what do I do in the meantime? To be frank, the idea of pregnancy brain does seem a little depressing. It makes me feel more tired and less productive, and it doesn’t fit my active personality which really annoys the crap out of me.

Here are a few ideas I am working on that may help with pregnancy brain:

1.  Exercise regularly

Pregnant woman doing yoga.

Evidence shows that women who exercise during pregnancy have smarter babies.

The research on the positive benefits of exercise on the brain are endless. It is pretty widely known in the medical field that exercise improves memory and thinking skills.

But, did you know that exercise during pregnancy helps your baby’s brain as well? According to a study in the Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, children of moms who exercised during pregnancy “scored higher on tests of language skills and intelligence at age 5 compared with the kids of sedentary moms.” Apparently, moderate levels of cortisol (a stress hormone secreted during exercise) promotes brain development in your baby.

I’m sold! What is good for me is apparently good for my baby too. My goal is to continue to practicing yoga and walking at least 10,ooo steps a day. I am using the heart app on my iphone to measure my progress.

2.  Have a good calendar system and to-do list

I write everything down in my iphone calendar or my do-to list. If its not written down, then it often doesn’t happen. You’ve got to have a plan because its impossible to remember everything in your head.

In addition, my husband and I have a dry erase calendar system on our refrigerator (I know we could just sync our I-phone calendars but it just helps us to see it visually). We write down all of our work and personal activities including work dinners, social events, appointments, play dates, date nights and even gym schedules. When one of us knows about a schedule update, it goes up on the board. I have 2 calendars on the fridge so we can always stay one month ahead. This system minimizes 99% of schedule confusion and almost completely eliminates double booking anything. It is a marriage win.

3.  Continue to practice gratitude

I have to remind myself that there is no point in getting frustrated about nature’s effects on my pregnancy. I am so grateful to be adding a baby boy into our family in a few short months, and the physical and mental changes are worth it all. As a nurse I am all too aware of how not everyone gets to have a family or even healthy children. A healthy pregnancy is a gift.

There is a meditation app called Headspace that I sometimes use that has the added benefit of helping me find more gratitude in my life. I wrote a little about that here.

4.  Get enough sleep

I am an ER nurse and the mother of a toddler, which means my only free time is during the hours when I probably should be getting more rest (after my daughter goes to bed at 7:30pm). I am really working on trying to be in bed no later then 9:30 or earlier if possible. Pregnant or not, sleep deprivation will make anyone’s brain not work at it’s best.

Not getting enough sleep can contribute to mental health disorders including antepartum and postpartum depression. In other words, the pregnant mom + good sleep = better brain health.

One way to find extra time in your life is to cut down on the amount of social media you use. You would be amazed at the amount of time gained back by completely eliminating it for a while.

5.  Get the recommended amount of Omega 3s

Newborn baby feet

What is good for mom is apparently good for baby too! It appears that both exercise and healthy food choices are good for everyone’s brain health.

Omega 3’s are good for both mom and babies’ brain health. They are important for cognitive (brain memory and performance) and behavior function.

I try to eat wild salmon twice a week and add flax seed to our morning smoothies. I also take an omega 3 supplement for pregnancy.

Accepting the joys of pregnancy (brain)

I already knew that delivering a few gorgeous babies meant making some sacrifices along the way. Understanding why these changes happen helps me accept them as a natural part of the motherhood process. The more I read and talk about how motherhood is supposed to change me, the easier it is to make positive adjustments and deal with it.

I am accepting my pregnancy brain as a blessing, not a curse, despite the occasional idiot thing I might do or say. Especially since the research says my brain will not be lost forever.

Motherhood is a mountainous emotional and physical transition so I’m really trying to lighten up on myself a bit. Mother nature sure does have an interesting sense of humor though. The least I can do is laugh at myself a little.

Sarah, Mother Nurse Love

Additional Recommended Reading

Pregnant Nurse Precautions To Consider At Work

Important Facts About Premature Birth

Why I Am So Lucky To Be Full Term

Pregnancy Kick Counts:  What I Learned About Fetal Movement

Why Nurses Need To Practice Yoga:  Self Care For The Caregiver

Why Nurses Need To Practice Yoga: Self Care For The Caregiver

(This post may contain affiliate links.  My disclosure page is super boring but you can find it here.)

Many nurses are very good at encouraging patients to follow a regular exercise routine and at teaching ways to manage stress for optimal health. Taking their own advice about healthy lifestyle behaviors though, well, not so much.

As an emergency room nurse who has worked as a resource nurse on various units all over the hospital, I see first hand the outstanding care that is being given to our patients. The nurses I work with bend over backwards.  At times they even risk their own health and safety to care for total strangers.

The work can be back-breaking, literally. Most days are very physically demanding with little rest. Over time, the work is depleting to an RN.  Sometimes even resulting in permanent injuries (hello, chronic back pain!), extreme burnout or even depression.

How much work does it take to be a nurse?

Being a nurse in the hospital demands a lot on the body. The job often requires moving non-stop for grueling 12 hours shifts (or longer).  It can include lifting and turning patients several times throughout the day. In addition to physical stress, nurses are often multitasking multiple patients with unique medical issues and making clinical decisions in potentially life-threatening situations.

Nurse praticing yoga.

Yoga can help nurses take better care of themselves.

To say that being a nurse causes wear-and-tear on the body is an understatement. As a result of years of heavy lifting many RN’s are suffering from chronic back problems. I know several who have had to go out on disability and sadly still suffer from permanent chronic back pain.

In nursing school we are taught “proper body mechanics” that are supposed to prevent back injuries while moving, lifting or turning patients. Recently however, there is new evidence suggesting that their really is no safe way for nurses to lift patients.

In addition, being a nurse often requires walking up to 15,000 steps or more in a single shift. A study found in the National Library of Medicine reported that many nurses walk up to five miles in an average 10 hour shift. However, in the Emergency Room and on many other units, I would argue that we actually walk much more then that. In fact, I wear a pedometer at work and I have logged up to 35,000 or more steps in a single day. That is the equivalent of walking 14 miles in a single shift!

The emotional and physiological drain of being a nurse can be overwhelming.

Being in the hospital is stressful. As a result, sometimes patients or families take their stress out on the people they are in contact with the most: the nurses. Yet it is our job to remain compassionate and continue to advocate for our patients in spite of this.

Burnout in the profession is common. Even I have questioned my decision to become a nurse for this reason on a few different occasions. I’ve tried to explain to friends and family how incredibly complex and stressful being a registered nurse can be. I think it is just one of those things that you really can’t understand unless you experience it for yourself.

All venting aside, I’m not going to run off and chance careers, or encourage anyone from not becoming a registered nurse. I derive an immense amount of pride and passion for what I do.  I also enjoy working with intelligent people who have the same drive for helping people that I do.

It is, however, not a career for wimps.

Nurses need to practice yoga.

Nurse practicing yoga

There are so many physical and mental benefits to practicing yoga regularly.

Nurses need to make self-care a priority. Not only does self-care result in better overall patient care, but ultimately it replenishes our depleted reserves.  Yoga helps us take better care of ourselves and our families.

There is an endless amount of studies on yoga and its amazing benefits on physical and mental health. The Mayo clinic has stated that “yoga may help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lower your heart rate” among many other benefits.

For the purpose of this article I am focusing on three of the biggest nurse health related issues. But don’t be mistaken, there several more benefits then I am not mentioning here.

Benefits of yoga for nurses:

Stress management

As I mentioned earlier, nurses have a high workload in many hospital wards. The stress is compounded by managing patient healthcare needs and treatments, daily occupational stressors and even the many frequent changes in technology.

A study published in the National Institute of Biotechnology Information investigated the effects of yoga on stress coping strategies of ICU nurses. After only 8 weeks of yoga the results showed that the participating ICU nurses had significantly better focus coping strategies and a major reduction in perceived mental pressure. If that is what can happen after only 8 weeks, imagine the impact a regular, permanent yoga practice could have on stress management levels.

Prevent or eliminate chronic low back pain

Chronic back pain in the nursing population is a common ailment. An evidenced based review at the Texas Women’s University reported that estimates of chronic low back pain among nurses range from 50%-80%. Fortunately, the review also presented an overwhelming amount of studies that found that regular yoga significantly reduced symptoms associated with chronic low back pain and greatly improved overall physicality.

Yoga stretching not only increases flexibly, but increases muscle strength and prevents injuries such as chronic lower back pain. In a career as physically demanding as nursing, the more physically stable we are, the better care we can give to ourselves and our patients.

Prevent burnout and compassion fatigue

Nurses practicing yoga

Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program training at UCLA Medical Center. Nurses are learning how to integrate holistic healthcare like yoga with traditional medicine.

Lack of self-care can easily result in burnout and compassion fatigue in the nursing profession. As much as I hate to admit it, even I have questioned how long I can continue with the immense workload and emotional drain that is required of me as a nurse. Thankfully, I have found a productive way to manage this is through yoga and meditation.

A study published in Workplace Health & Safety on yoga for self-care and burnout prevention of nurses found that yoga participants “reported significantly higher self-care as well as less emotional exhaustion upon completion of an 8-week yoga intervention.” While the control group demonstrated no change throughout the course of the study, the yoga group showed a significant improvement in scores for self-care, mindfulness, and emotional exhaustion outcomes.

Yoga is good for you!

Yoga is a productive way to prevent some of the most common health ailments among nurses. Empowering nurses in self-care helps to create a happier, healthier and more productive work environment.

For better or worse, nurses serve as role models in the healthcare community. We need to practice what we preach. Why would a patient listen to our advice on how to life a healthy life if we are not living one ourselves?

Sarah, Mother Nurse Love

Additional reading:

Recommended Reading

8 Ways Nurses Can Stay Healthy

Pregnant Nurse Precautions To Consider At Work

3 Crucial Reasons Nurse Need Yoga

Unpaid Maternity Leave As A Registered Nurse:  How To Make It Work

Unpaid Maternity Leave As A Registered Nurse: How To Make It Work

As an expecting Mother and registered nurse, I will soon be confronting one of the biggest downfalls to being a per diem RN: unpaid maternity leave.

In fact, as a per diem nurse, I receive absolutely zero benefits outside of my regular hourly rate.

So why be a per diem nurse, you ask?

Per diem nursing has been a game-changer for me because it gives me the scheduling flexibly I need to be a working Mom. Per diem means: for each day. As a nurse, I am literally employed “by the day.” Essentially, I can schedule myself to work any day I want.

Zoe is going to have a lot more responsibility soon in her next role as big sister.

I became a per diem nurse out of necessity due to scheduling and childcare issues. The telemetry unit I had been working on was unable to give me a set weekly schedule. This made it very difficult to secure a regular nanny or plan for daycare for our daughter.

Every month I would request the schedule I needed to make my childcare situation work. Unfortunately, I would inevitably still be scheduled on many days in which I had no childcare available to me.

I had a choice: continue to call-in sick and struggle to find alternative childcare.  Or make a change that allowed me to have the flexibility I needed to be a working Mom. Ultimately, my husband and I made the decision that it was better to leave my career RN position in order to reap the much needed flexibility benefit of being a per diem nurse.

Still, there is something about this that infuriates me: I have been paying into maternity leave and disability benefits for almost 17 years. Now that I’m pregnant again and actually need maternity leave benefits, I’m no longer eligible for them. Oh, the irony!

Maternity leave: A financial drain

After baby arrives, I will be out for at least 8 weeks or longer so I can spend baby bonding time with our son. This will add up to a lot of money lost.

Just to make my point, here is a hypothetical, but very real situation:

Lets say I make a little over $1000 a day and I work 3 days a week. 3 days x $1000 = $3,000 per week. So just one week of unpaid maternity leave results in a $3,000 financial loss.

So far, the math is pretty simple. It doesn’t sound that horrible… yet.

But, if you multiply $3,000 a week by 8 weeks of maternity leave, that equals $24,000 in financial losses. And that’s if I only take off a measly 8 weeks of baby bonding time.

I will be taking more time then that so I can spend more time at home with our son. I think its important for his early development and luckily we can afford it.

And the financial losses continue to rise…

12 weeks = $36,000

16 weeks = $48,000

You get my point…  It really starts to add up.

Additional time off before baby

I could be out of work for weeks or months before I give birth depending on how my pregnancy progresses in the third trimester. Nurses have very physically demanding jobs that often require grueling 12 hour shifts. There is a strong possibility that I may have to step out earlier then I would like.

We could be looking at 50k or more in financial losses depending on how early I have to stop working and how long I decide to stay home with our newborn.

Who knew having a baby was so costly for a working Mom in the United States? Even before factoring in medical expenses.

Unpaid maternity leave statistics in the U.S.

Sarah and Zoe in the NICU

This is a very sleepy photo of Zoe and me in the NICU when she was a week old. Zoe arrived 7 weeks early. At 4.3 pounds we are incredibly luckily that she was as healthy as she was. Our doctors called her “tiny but mighty.”

It makes me so sad that I live in the only developed country in the world that doesn’t automatically offer paid maternity leave benefits to working women. In fact, 88% of employees have no access to paid maternity leave or paid paternity leave in the U.S.

The Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees by federal law that women are entitled up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off. However, many women still don’t even qualify for that if they work for a small employer or have been with that employer less then 1 year. What a shame.

What now?

Now that I have gotten my venting out of the way, it’s time to talk about a plan. The only thing left to do is try to make the best out of a crummy situation.

I am determined to make my maternity leave as positive and stress-free as possible, despite the financial drain of having no paid maternity leave.

Unpaid maternity leave: How to make it work!

#1.  Open a new saving account dedicated to maternity leave.

One of the easiest ways to save money is to pay yourself first each paycheck through direct deposit. That way you don’t even see then money hitting your checking account. Liquid cash is good so you can use it when you need it.

Suzie Orman, one of my long-time favorite financial gurus says that you want to have as much money saved up for as many months as you plan to take off, as well as an 8 month emergency plan. You never know when an emergency can strike, for example, a medical emergency, a job loss or worse. The faster you can start saving into an account dedicated to maternity leave, the more prepared you will be when it comes.

#2.  Make a budget and stick to it.

I prefer more of a no budget, budget strategy. Basically, I decide how much I want to save each paycheck and immediately transfer it into an online Barclays savings account as soon as payday comes. No muss, no fuss.

I am aware of everything I purchase and review it each month by using a program called Mint to track my expenses. If you aren’t using this, you should be. Since I have started using Mint I have watch my savings rate take off to a place I have never been able to before. It is amazing how much you can save when you know exactly where your money is going!

I’m always surprised at how many people I talk to who have no idea what they really spend in a month. Needless to say, this is a poor strategy for preparing for an unpaid maternity leave. You’ve got to have a plan.

#3.  Make more money now or take on extra work.

If you are currently pregnant or even just thinking about it, now is a good time to take on extra hours at work. Especially if you are able to get overtime pay.

As a nurse, anything over 40 hours of work a week is considered overtime at my hospital. Is is very difficult for me to do more then that since I have my daughter at home, but I have done it a few times just to add a little more to my savings.

In addition, some holidays pay time-and-a-half rates. Therefore, I have been known to pick up shifts on Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving or even Christmas. Its not my favorite thing to do but my family handles it by celebrating these holidays on the day before or the day after the actual holiday. It adds up quite a bit when you are saving to be out for a few months.

#4.  Discuss recurring expenses that you aren’t really using or don’t need.

Look at your expenses and see if there is anywhere that you can reasonably make a cut. Are you really using the 100$ a month gym membership? Or does it make more sense to take daily walks and do online yoga at home?

My husband and I talk about money a lot more then I think many other couples do. Saving money is all about establishing priorities and being on the same page. Talking about money has kept us in good financial health and kept us on the same page with our spending habits.

#5.  Look at the easy ways to cut back.

Families dropping from a dual income to a single income usually need to trim expenses somewhere. Make a list of everything you are spending money on, and be honest with yourself about what is an actual need. Here are a few ideas to throw on the table:

  • nix the coffee cart habit = save $4 a day
  • pack your lunches = save $12 a day
  • cancel the cable you are barely using anyway = save $80 a month
  • cook your meals at home instead of ordering take out = potentially $100’s in savings per month (if you eat out a lot)
  • go on a 3-6 month spending freeze on things that are not an actual “need” = $(fill in the space here)

Do you get my point? There is A LOT of money to be saved if you just pay more attention to what you are spending money on.

I do consider myself somewhat of an expert on “trimming the fat” on my own spending habits since paying off a large amount of student loan debt in a short amount of time. That experience is helping me prepare my unpaid maternity leave as well.

#6.  Don’t fall for the baby registry trap.

There are so many items that I was told I had to have for baby #1. Many of them are “nice to have items” that I barely even used (uh hem, grocery cart baby cover used a mere 3 times!). Needless to say, many things from my baby registry are being stored away in our garage and will probably be given away practically new.

I remember looking through Pinterest at lists of “must haves” for a new Mom. They are long and mostly unnecessary. Stay away from those lists!

For example, I was told that I “needed” the newborn insert for our stroller. But for the first few months I was using her car seat in her stroller. By the time I actually went to use the insert she has already grown out of it. Same went for the ergo baby newborn insert- I didn’t even need it until she was to big to fit in it anyway.

If you actually need something, then go ahead and get it. These are just my thoughts as a second time Mom with baby registry regret. With the exception of a double stroller and a crib (which I will buy pre-owned), I can’t think of any other BIG items I will actually need for our new baby.

#7.  Extra expenses to take into consideration:

Sarah with Zoe at home on maternity leave

I was so grateful for amazing baby bonding time with Zoe after she was born.

There will be some extra expenses after the baby is born. Some of the big ones for us are diapers, wipes, formula/food, and additional childcare.  None of these things are cheap, so its good to be prepared for the expenses in advance.

You could always decide to go the cloth diaper route. I know people who have done this and it does save quite a bit if money. That, however, was not in our savings plan. There are some things of convenience that really are worth the money, and that was one for us.

Other big expenses include childcare enrichment classes (MyGym, recreation classes, music classes, ect..) if that is something you are interested in.

Childcare is our single biggest expense and we pay our nanny $240-$360 per week (for 2-3 days only). It would cost a lot more if I worked 5 days a week. I have friends who work full time and pay a nanny $750 or more in cash every single week. Day care is much cheaper but still a large expense.

I have read that the average baby costs their parents $300,000 from the time they are born until the time they turn 18. And that doesn’t even include a college education! I don’t know about you, but that really makes me think about how I budget our money.

#8.  Think about the big picture.

Having a baby is one of the most amazing human experiences I have ever had. I absolutely love being a Mom. However, it can also be stressful at times, and it probably will be, even with the most thoughtful preparation.

At the end of the day you can only do the best you can. Saving for unpaid maternity leave is just one of the things I am doing to try and ease the financial loss that comes with having a baby. My plan is to eliminate as much stress as I can so I can joyfully relish in the awesomeness that comes with having a new baby.

Now, if only I could invent a healthy way to live on increments of 2 hours of sleep or less, I would be golden!

Additional Recommended Reading

10 Simple Ways To Help Your Toddler Prepare For A New Sibling

Silent Placental Abruption:  Our Premature Birth Story

Why I Will Always Be A Working Mom