(This post about saving money for maternity leave as a nurse may contain affiliate links. You can find my disclosure page here.)
As a new mother, it is your legal right to take a maternity leave.
Maternity leave is so important for a new mother for many reasons:
Unfortunately, many women in the US only get 6 weeks of maternity leave (8 weeks if you have a c-section). And if you are a per diem employee like me, none of that time off is paid. For that reason I worked right up until my 9th month of pregnancy while working as an emergency room nurse at a level 1 trauma center (thank God for pregnancy compression stockings!).
Nurses work extremely hard to care for patients like they would care for a family member, yet when they have a baby of their own they often have very little time to bond with their flesh and blood. Add the financial strain into the mix and it can become very stressful and overwhelming. So what is a nurse who is also a brand new mom to do?
Well, I have half-glass full mentality. So for the sake of finding solutions to this conundrum that so many women find themselves in, I compiled a list of ways for mothers to plan financially far in advance of baby’s arrival. You must take care of yourself first!
The average paid maternity leave in the USA is only 6 weeks for a vaginal birth and 8 weeks for a c-section. And if you are a per diem RN then chances are that you will not be paid at all while you are on maternity leave.
Saving for maternity leave is crucial for moms so they can spend more time baby bonding and less time worrying about money!
Unpaid maternity leave for nurses: you need to save up in advance!
After my daughter was born in 2015 I went back to work as a per diem nurse (higher hourly rate and more flexibility, but no benefits – including disability or paid maternity leave). Therefore, eighteen months later when I went on maternity leave with my second baby I had a completely unpaid maternity leave. It made the whole situation much more stressful for me. Thankfully I planned well in advance to minimize the financial burden.
Here is how I managed to save up an additional 20K for my second maternity leave:
#1. Open a new savings account dedicated to maternity leave.
One of the easiest ways to save money is to pay yourself first. When you set up direct deposit for each paycheck you make saving much easier. That way you don’t even see the money hitting your checking account. Liquid money is good so you can use it when you need it.
Suzie Orman (one of my all-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 savings account as soon as payday comes.
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 watched my savings rate take off farther than ever. It is amazing how much you can save when you know exactly where your money is going!
I’m always surprised 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. I don’t work overtime anymore now that I have small children, but I did it during my pregnancies 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. It’s 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. When children are young, they don’t know what day it is anyway, so this strategy has worked particularly well. It adds up quite a bit when you are saving to be out for a few months.
Nurse maternity leave: how to save up in advance
#4. Cut all recurring expenses that you aren’t really using or don’t need.
Look at your monthly 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 classes at home?
My husband and I talk about money often and try to be responsible about our spending. Saving money is all about establishing priorities and having set goals. This 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” = $$$
Do you see my point here? 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. Saving money for maternity leave as a nurse was a very similar experience.
#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 (I’m looking at you grocery cart baby cover I only used 3 times!). Many of these supposed “must have items” from my baby registry are currently being stored away in my garage and will, at best, find a new home in our local Goodwill.
I remember looking through Pinterest at lists of “must haves” for the 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 too 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 a lot of baby registry regret. With the exception of a double stroller and a crib, I can’t think of any other BIG items I will actually need for our new baby.
#7. Consider the extra expenses that come with a new baby.
There will be some extra expenses after the baby is born. Some of the big ones for us are diapers, wipes, food, and additional childcare. None of these things are cheap, so it’s 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 of 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, etc.) if that is something you are interested in.
Childcare is our single biggest expense besides housing. In fact, if I didn’t have the higher hourly rate that I get from being a per diem nurse, it might not even make financial sense for me to work as an RN. We have a nanny that comes every Monday and Wednesday so those are the days that I work at the hospital (plus one day on the weekend when my husband is home to watch the kids). If you have family that can help on days you work that would be a huge financial savings.
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 we budget our money. (We have college funds set up for both of our kids which started the day they were born, but we are still going to encourage them to achieve scholarships!)
#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, 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 did to try and ease the financial loss that comes with having a baby. It is wise to try and eliminate as much stress as you can so you 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! Best wishes to you and your growing family.
Are there any other tips on saving money for maternity leave as a nurse you would add to this list? Leave a comment!
P.S. HEY NURSES! Remember to sign up to receive your FREE E-BOOK “The Nurse’s Guide To Health & Self Care” in the sign up box below! (scroll down)
Additional Recommended Reading:
(This post about tips for working as a nurse while pregnant may contain affiliate links. Please see disclosure page for more information. *Post updated on 7/26/19)
How am I supposed to survive pregnancy while working 12 hour shift as a nurse?
This is a question I asked myself many times during the early parts of both of my pregnancies. In fact, at times it really stressed me out!
Was I going to be able to be on my feet all day? What is the best way to prevent dehydration at work?
And most importantly, how am I going to keep my energy up for my entire shift?!
But by taking proper precautions and always putting safety first, working as a nurse while pregnant is possible.
Please keep in mind that these tips are not a replacement for medical care. You should always speak with your doctor first about their recommendations. And if you both decide that working 12 hour shifts during your pregnancy is OK, then here are some tips to help get you through!
You can thrive during your pregnancy while working as a nurse when you plan ahead and take good care of yourself!
(This post contains affiliate links. You can find my disclosure page here.)
Here are 9 helpful tips for pregnant nurses:
Compression socks and stockings help nurses by preventing varicose veins due to standing for long periods of time.
During pregnancy, a mother’s blood volume increases by almost 50%! That’s a lot of extra fluid to be circulating through your body when you are on your feet for 12 hour shifts. This is also why many pregnant women develop varicose veins during pregnancy. If you are a pregnant nurse and haven’t invested in compression socks yet, its time to get a couple of pairs ASAP.
are often overlooked as a proactive way to prevent some of the chronic issues that come from working in a profession where you are on your feet for such long hours. Pregnant women especially benefit from wearing compression stockings or socks during a 12 hour shift for a few reasons:
- Prevention of varicose veins
- Improved blood flow and decreased risk of blood clots
- Decreased swelling of ankles and feet
I was able to continue working as an emergency room nurse up until the beginning of my ninth month of pregnancy because I invested in a few quality pairs of toe to waist compression stockings. I wouldn’t have made it past my 6th month without them!
2. Wear good shoes
Pregnant nurses must make sure they have great shoes to support their growing belly’s.
Every nurse needs a great pair of shoes to get through a 12 hour shift. But the benefits to wearing quality nursing shoes during pregnancy it is even more important. You will be carrying an extra 25-35 pounds and your feet need support to carry that extra weight. If you thought your feet hurt working as a nurse before pregnancy, wait until you are pregnant! Keep in mind that your feet will swell a little more during pregnancy.
Things to look for in a great pair of nursing shoes.
- Support and stability
- Slip resistance
- Work function
- Price and warranty
You can read more about the best shoes for nurses here!
3. Pack healthy and energizing snacks
Almonds: a healthy nurse snack!
During my first trimester I struggled quite a bit with nausea and an overwhelming feeling of hungover-ness (without any of the fun the night before). I was also training to be an ER nurse, so it was more important than ever to be alert and focused.
By packing a lunch with nutritious snacks everyday I was able to keep myself energized as well as fend off nausea enough to get through each shift. I just couldn’t go more than 2-3 hours without refueling myself with something healthy to eat.
Admittedly, when I forgot to bring food with me I would eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from the stash we gave our patients. Although they were nothing special, for some reason they tasted amazing. Never underestimate the hunger of a pregnant nurse! I felt so much better and able to continue working afterwards.
Here are a few easy, fast, and high energy snacks to help your pregnant body stay energized through your 12 hour shifts:
- Trail mix
- Energy bars
- Almond butter and apples
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
- Greek yogurt
- String cheese
- Hard boiled eggs
- Veggies and hummus
4. Go to bed as early as you can.
Pregnant nurses need their sleep!
You simply cannot sleep too much when you are pregnant. This is a fact.
Here is a sleep secret that got my through 12 hour shifts during my pregnancy. I would go down to the hospital meditation room during my lunch break, find a comfortable chair and literally pass out for 45 minutes. I set my phone alarm to make sure I was back to work on time. When it when it went off I was so deep in REM sleep that sometimes I didn’t even know where I was when I woke up.
The only way you are going to have the energy to make it through your pregnancy while working 12 hour shifts is to make sure you get as much sleep as you possibly can every night. 8 hours would be ideal.
5. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise everyday
Prenatal yoga can help nurses deal with stress during pregnancy.
It seams counter intuitive, but exercising while pregnant will actually give you more energy to get through a 12 hour shift. In addition, exercise during pregnancy prevents gestational diabetes and hypertension.
(It is important to talk to your doctor about starting any exercise routine during pregnancy. There are rare circumstances when your doctor may not want you to exercise while pregnant.)
Non-impact exercises for pregnant nurses include:
- Prenatal yoga
- Hand weights
- Low impact aerobics
6. Reconsider working the night shift
Working the night shift can be especially challenging during pregnancy. Consider switching to day shift.
The rigorousness of working 12 hour shifts as a nurse is exhausting as it is. Add pregnancy into the mix and you might find that you are even more tired than ever.
Some pregnant nurses who have already been working night shift continue with that schedule and do just fine. However, those who have rotating day and night schedules might find it especially hard to switch back to the night shift once they become pregnant.
Talk to your doctor about whether it is safe for you to continue working night shifts. Communicate with your manager about your specific health needs during your pregnancy. You may want to switch to a day shift only schedule for the duration of your pregnancy.
7. Talk to your manager about modified duty
Many facilities are able to offer modified duty for nurses who can’t be on their feet all day.
As a pregnant nurse it may be necessary to have a modified work assignment. Especially for nurses who work in rigorous units such as the emergency department. The physical demands of pregnancy might be too much for pregnant nurses already struggling with fatigue, nausea or having to carry so much extra weight.
Talk to your manager to see if there are alternative assignments you can have such as working at the monitor, organizing paperwork or auditing patient charts. If these options are not available consider the possibility of working shorter shifts or working two days a week instead of three.
Remember, always ask for help if you need it!
8. Communicate with management about your intended time to go on maternity leave
It is important to keep open communication with administration about when you intend to go on maternity leave. As a pregnant nurse, you cannot predict the future.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had every intention of working up until my 38th week. But when I had my appointment at 31 weeks my doctor thought it was best that I didn’t work on my feet for more 6 hours a day. While 6 hours seems like a lot in most professions, it’s not much for a hospital nurse. Sometimes we are on our feet for 10-12 hours a shift!
Yet, I still didn’t want to go off work because for some reason I felt like I was taking advantage of the system. I thought I had the grit to work all the way through. So, I waited for two weeks before I finally presented my doctors note to my manager. When I finally did, I gave it to him with tears in my eyes because I knew he would have to put me on disability at that time. My maternity leave started at that moment.
It was a good thing in the long run because I suffered a placental abruption and had an emergency c-section 7 weeks before my due date. It is wise to listen to your doctor’s advice!
9. Enjoy your pregnancy
Enjoy your pregnancy, nurse!
Pregnancy can and should be a beautiful experience, even when you are a nurse working 12 hour shifts. Far too often many pregnant nurses focus on the inconveniences and difficulties they face at work during their pregnancies But with proper precautions it can – and should – be a time filled with good health, gratitude, abundance and most of all, joy.
Recommended reading for the nurse mom:
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(This post about time saving tips for nurse moms contains affiliate links. You can find my disclosure page here. To contact us regarding collaboration click here).
To the mom who is a nurse: You’ve got amazing skills and you are beyond capable of running the world.
At work you are busy caring for patients, organizing plans of care, giving life-saving treatments, advocating for patients, all while continuing to make them feel safe and well-cared for. Now its time to apply your nurse time management skills at home. After all, nurses know more then anyone about how to prioritize the most important tasks first. Our patients lives often depend on it.
No one has the ability to multi-task the way a nurse does. Here are a few time saving tips and tools to help you apply those talents as a mom managing a household:
Simple Time Saving Tips For Nurse Moms:
1. Have your to-do list in your phone
I love planners because I think they are pretty. Problem is, when you have children you almost never get a chance to look at them. Which is why I have found it necessary to keep my to-do lists organized in my phone where I can easily see them.
Here are a few awesome apps to stay organized:
- Trello: This is my favorite!
- Google Tasks: simple tasks in Gmail and Google Calendar
- Google Keep: A bulletin board for your tasks
- Remember The Milk: very simple yet powerful task management
2. Make preparing lunches and family meals easy
Choose from 18 healthy & delicious recipes a week from Sun Basket! Save $45 if you order today!
3. Listen to podcasts for perspective on nursing, motherhood, parenting and lifestyle tips
Podcasts are a great way to add a little adult conversation to your day. After the birth of my first baby I seriously missed reading books. So, I would take my daughter for long walks and listen to podcasts for hours. I was able to walk off my baby weight relatively fast and learn about ways to make my life easier in the process.
Here are a few of my favorite podcasts:
4. Make it super simple to tidy up your home
I remember people telling me just to “let things go” after I had a baby. Then I heard it even more after my second baby. I think this might be the worst advice I have ever gotten as a new mom. Who feels better when their lives and homes are a complete disaster? Not me.
I have found though the years that its easier to keep my home clean and organized when I don’t keep things that we are not using or providing a helpful service to us. Basically, if its not being used, then its got to go. Here are two books I read that inspired me to declutter our home and keep it that way:
5. Make family photo books in 20 minutes with Chatbooks
ChatBooks is a mobile app where you can pick photos from your social media accounts or mobile device and have them printed in a pretty book. Chatbooks are photo books for people who don’t have time to make photo books (ahem, nurse moms!) You can easily add, edit, and rearrange your favorite photos to create a beautiful photo book.
Before I had children I had the time to spend hours making photo books and ordering pictures. Now that I have children, I want to document everything they do and make hard copy books for our family and ourselves. Problem is, there just isn’t time anymore! Chatbooks has been the best and easiest solution for this problem.
Every few months I go through my phone and make a new book. I have books for both of my children first year of life, all of our family photoshoots, vacations, and other special events. Plus, it has made it so easy to make great birthday and holiday gifts for grandparents as well.
6. Get off social media
Limiting social media is simply one of the best time saving tips there is! There is nothing more time wasteful then scrolling through social media or constantly uploading photos.
Focus on whats most important to you. Besides, studies say that people who look at social media are likely to become more depressed. And if your are a busy working mom, you have got no time for that!
I try and focus on any of these productive tasks instead of mindlessly using social media:
- being a wife
- raising an amazing kid
- spending time with friends
- writing in this blog
- listening to music or a podcast
- practicing yoga
Recently, I was reading an article about an author named Tim Ferris who wrote a book called The 4-Hour Workweek. He talked a lot about how being perpetually busy just for the sake of business is actually a form of laziness. Ferris explained that on a superficial level, being busy is a satisfying substitute for doing important work. “It’s very easy to confuse activity with productivity,” says Ferris.
This got me thinking… Is my addiction to social media just me being lazy? Am I unconsciously browsing social media instead of living my life with intention? This realization inspired me to do an experiment and quit all forms of social media for one week. And guess what?… I survived! And I was motivated me to limit myself to checking my social media accounts 1-2 times a week from then on.
I have so much more time now to focus on things that actually serve me well.
I hope these time saving tips inspired you to be more productive and purposeful. Now, continue doing what you do best and continue running the world!
Additional Recommended Reading By Mother Nurse Love:
*This post contains affiliate links that I have personally used and have found essential for pumping at work as a nurse working 12 hour shifts at the hospital. You can find my disclosure policy here.
Having a new baby is both incredible and overwhelming. Breast feeding can be hard for new moms (it certainly was for me!). Once I finally got the hang of it my maternity leave was almost over and I had a whole to problem to figure out: how was I going to continue breastfeeding while working as a nurse?
Nurses who breastfeed may face challenges as they return to work.
There is good news for nurses who WANT to continue breastfeeding their babies for up to a year or longer as a working mom and nurse. It is possible! But you need to plan in advance and communicate with your workplace about your intention to pump at work. And you need to have the right pumping supplies to make it possible.
If you don’t plan ahead, pumping at work can be extremely difficult. But with the right pumping tools and a lot of determination you will find that you can make pumping fit right into your busy nursing schedule!
Even I can’t believe how long I have been able to pump while working as a nurse.
I am happy to share that I have been successfully pumping as an ER nurse in a very busy level 1 trauma center for the last 13 months. And I still can’t believe how well it is going! Sure, there have been a few minor hiccups along the way (like forgetting my breast pump at home, whoops!). But overall the experience has been way better then I would have thought.
I now know that I will be able to continue pumping breast milk for my baby for as long as I desire. I want other working moms to know that they can do this too. (Read more about what I have learned about pumping at work as a nurse).
Essential Must-Have Items To Pump At Work As A Nurse:
This device is the highest on the must-have items to pump at work list, for obvious reasons. Without it, you have no way to access your milk! I am using the Medela portable pump because it is the one that my insurance covered and it works great. You want to make sure that you have a double pump so you can pump both breasts at once to save time. You can also use this bag to store your breast milk while you are away at work as long as you keep in in a refrigerator.
Check with your insurance to see if they cover a portable breast pump before you buy one. I live in California and my insurance gave me a breast pump free of charge!
(Just a note, the different brands do not work interchangeably with each other. So you want to make sure you find one brand you like and stick with it! Otherwise you will end up with a bunch of parts that don’t work with one anther. You don’t need your back to work pumping supply list to be any longer then it already is!)
You will need breast milk collection storage bottles to store your milk until you get home from work. I use the Medela bottles because I already use the Medela pump but there are several other brands you can used as well. Just make sure the ones you are using are made without BPA (its a safer plastic that helps retain breast milk’s beneficial properties).
I also like the Medela screw on lids better then some other brands because they are leak proof. (I tried a different brand and had an issue with leakage all over my packed lunch!). You can wash them in the sink and they are also dishwasher safe.
For the sake of time and efficiency it is very important that you double pump at work. I really like this double pumping bra because it makes it possible to double pump without having to hold the pumps with with both hands. Once you start pumping you will find that having to hold the pumps in place is really annoying and makes it difficult to do anything else. It also helps prevent spilling accidents since you can remove and clean one side at a time.
Engorgement is no joke. There have been a few times at work when I wasn’t able to pump on schedule and I ended up leaking through my scrubs (you could barely see it, but still!). As a result of that embarrassing experience I started wearing nursing pads when I was at work. I already wore them at home from the time my son was about 1 week old.
I use reusable nursing pads made of bamboo because I have read that many disposable pads contain absorbent chemicals which come in direct contact with your skin. They also run the risk of trapping moisture, especially if your are leaking. This can increase the risk of mastitis, a very painful bacterial infection that will make you sick and can be dangerous if untreated. Disposable pads can also be expensive over time if you are frequently using them. I have 12 reusable nursing pads and I run them through the washer and dryer with all my other clothes.
The beautiful thing about pumping is that you can store your breast milk in the freezer! So even if you have a surplus of milk you can put it away for later use. These little breast milk storage baggies are great because you can write the date on the top section so you know how long they have been in the freezer.
Place them in the refrigerator for 12 hours before you need them to thaw them out. Or place them in a bowl of hot water for quicker use. These are a necessity for working moms who pump – I have used over 200 of them already!
My freezer got a little over loaded with breast milk within the first few months that I was back at work and this milk storage organizer helped me to keep things more organized. It also helped me keep the milk organized by date so I make sure to use the oldest milk first.
Pumping At Work: Cleaning Parts And Sanitation
One of the biggest concerns of many nurse moms who are pumping at work is cleanliness. After all, the hospital is a place where sick people go and it is more full of germs then pretty much anywhere. The last thing a new mom wants to do is accidentally bring home unwanted bugs to their new baby! Thus, it is so important to try and keep your breast pump parts as clean as possible while you are pumping during 12 hour shifts.
First, it is very important to try to pump in an area if the hospital that is as clean as possible. Many hospitals have a lactation room set aside for employees of the hospital. Talk to your administration about places that you can safely pump that are as germ-free as possible. Bathroom stalls are not a place for a new mom to pump! You have the right to pump at work as a nurse in a sanitary place!
For more information on successful pumping during 12 hour shifts in the hospital read How To Pump At Work As A Nurse.
Here are a few essentials for keeping pumping parts clean at work:
Medela quick clean breast pump & accessory wipes are perfect for nurses at work with no access to soap or water for cleaning breast pumps and accessories. Unfortunately, many nurses have no choice but to pump in empty hospital rooms with no running water and therefore have a difficult time cleaning pump parts. These are still so helpful for me as a nurse who pumps at work. One wipe cleans both breast shields, valves and membranes.
I also use these for cleaning changing tables, high chairs, cribs and countertops, toys. and other hard surfaces when I am at home. And the Medela quick clean wipes are unscented, alcohol and bleach-free as well.
Having extra wide wet & dry bag to carry your clean and used pump parts make pumping more sanitary.
I also love using the staging mat so I can set-up & take down my pump parts on a clean surface. This staging mat snaps on to the backside of the bag so that you always have it handy. When you’re setting up and taking down your parts, you want a clean spot to do it, and now regardless of where you need to pump, you’ll have this with you. Just unsnap it from the bag and set it down on a flat surface – and you can do your set up right there. It’s also large enough for you to fit all your parts.
Take it one day at a time, Mama.
Breastfeeding while working as a nurse can be overwhelming, but you can do this!
There are a lot of products on the market and it can be overwhelming for a mom who is preparing to go back to work from maternity leave. So, make it easier on yourself and have a plan in place before you go back to work (read more about how I pump at work as a registered nurse who works 12 hour shifts).
After successfully pumping at work with two babies I have whittled down my list to include the things that have helped me the most. I hope this helps to guide you in the right direction to find what works for you too!
It is your legal right to continue to provide breast milk for your children and pump while you are at work. Do not let anyone tell you differently or make you feel guilty about it. Only you know what is right for you and your baby.
Let me know how it goes as a pumping mom in the workplace and please reach out to me if you have any questions. Breastfeeding while working as a nurse IS possible! Good luck Mama!
Additional Recommended Reading:
Before you consider hospital nursing as a career you may want to weigh the pros and cons of 12 hour nursing shifts. I wish someone had shared this information with me before I became a nurse so that I had a better idea of what to expect. Especially as a working mother.
Pros of working 12 hour shifts:
More work flexibility
When you work 12 hour shifts you can get more creative with a work schedule. That is so important to me as a working mom. I want to be available when my kids need me to be home from work. In addition, I often feel that I get to experience what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mom and have the ability to also work full-time (although I am a very tired mom these days).
I try to make my schedule the same every week for consistency. I usually work every Monday and Wednesday, and every other Sunday. However, if I need to be home on one of my usual work days then I can request to work a different day, or switch days with another nurse.
In addition, working as a per diem nurse has given me even greater flexibility with my schedule. I can work as little as one day a week or as many as 4 or 5 as long as the hospital has a need for nurses (although I choose never to work more than 2 or 3 max).
More days off
Who doesn’t want to work less days in a week? When you work 12 hour shifts as a full time nurse, you get to work three days a week instead of 5. That also means that you have 4 days off every week instead of 2.
On the flip side, keep in mind that a 12 hour shift makes for a really, really loooooong day. Never underestimate the exhaustion that comes with working as a nurse for 12 hours a shift! You will need those extra days of to recover.
Less commuting to work (save time & gas!)
Working three days a week instead of a more traditional Monday through Friday schedule means that you spend significantly less time commuting to work. In addition, if some of those days fall on a weekend then you can miss traffic completely! Personally, I don’t love working on the weekend because I prefer to be home with my family, however I do appreciate how fast I can get to and from work. That is something to consider when you live in a high traffic city like Los Angeles.
Congruence of care
When nurses work 12 hour shifts they only give report to oncoming nurses twice in a 24 hour period. Working 8 hour shifts requires that nurses give report 3 times in 24 hours. With a 12 hour shift, nurses do less hand off and are able to spend more time with the same patients.
Less caregiver change could potentially translate into a decrease in nurse error because you are handing over patients less frequently. There is less chance for miscommunication.
Congruence of care is more important on nurse units where patients stay for longer periods of time. As a ER nurse we are used to having several new patients and handing care over to floor units more frequently so this may not be as much of a benefit if you work in ER.
Possibility of taking “mini vacations” without using vacation time
When you have the option to have several days off in between work days, it becomes possible to take mini vacations without putting in a vacation request. In fact, I have taken up to a week off at a time to go to Mexico without using any vacation days.
When you consolidate your hours into longer periods of time per day, then you can take more days off in a row. For example, if I am putting my schedule in for a two week period, I can request a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday for the first week and a Thursday, Friday, Saturday for the second week. That leaves me with 8 days off in between!
There are pros and cons to working 12 hour nursing shifts that you may want to consider.
Cons of working 12 hour shifts:
May put a nurse’s health at risk
It is no surprise that nurses work incredibility hard. I come home at the end of a 12 hour nursing shift with an aching back and burning feet. This is because I, like most nurses, often don’t have time to rest while at work. When I do have a minute to sit down to chart, I’m lucky if I can find a chair. I know a few older nurses who have been working bedside for 25 years and they literally have a permanent limp and can barely stand up straight.
Many nurses work 12 hour shifts with minimal breaks. We are lifting and pulling patients, often spending the majority of our day on our feet, managing stressful and sometime critical situations while doing everything we can to hold our pee for hours on end! Some days when I finally get a break to eat lunch and I am at my weakest, I find that our break room is stocked with donuts and cookies. My exhaustion can be overwhelming and the temptation for a little pick me up is never higher than right at that moment.
With all of our education, nurses should be good role models for health. But unfortunately that is not always true. We have created a culture that sets many nurses up for unhealthy habits.
A University of Pennsylvania study on hospital nurses found that the longer the shift, the higher the levels of burnout and patient dissatisfaction. The researchers discovered that nurses working shifts that were ten hours or longer were up to two and a half times more likely than nurses working shorter shifts to experience burnout and job dissatisfaction.
One reason may be that longer shifts give nurses less time in a day to care for themselves. I have found it challenging to do any self-care on days that I work 12 hour shifts because nearly every waking hour is spent caring for patients. Furthermore, the study found that the nurse burnout associated with longer shifts increased the chances of the nurse wanting to leave the job.
If you have kids, you won’t see them on the days you work
As a nurse and mom, one of the worst parts of working 12 hour shifts is that I don’t get to see my children at all on the days that I work. They are still asleep when I leave for work at 6 o’clock in the morning and they are already in bed by the time I get home at 8:30 PM. Even worse, when I work back-to-back shifts I may not see them at all for 24 to 36 hours at a time. I could as easily have been out-of town as far as they are concerned. Nursing is a good career for moms, but this still something you may want to consider.
Working a 12 hour nursing shift makes for a very long work day. But that is the price I must pay for getting to spend more days at home. So, the benefits of the 12 hour shift far outweigh the cons for me. Admittedly though, I really do focus on the benefits of working 12 hour shifts as much as I can. I must remind myself to stay positive. There are some days I wonder how long I can physically keep up with the job before I permanently injure myself or completely burn out.
Right now I remain passionate about helping others as a nurse and I am grateful to have work flexibility that allows me to spend more uninterrupted days off with my family than I would have with a standard 9 to 5 schedule. When I think about it in that way I realize I am lucky to get to have the best of both worlds.
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As an ER nurse who delivered my second baby in early 2018, I have done a lot of research about pregnant nurse precautions to be aware of when you work in a hospital. My goal was to make sure that it was safe for me to continue working in such a physically demanding environment with so many potential occupational hazards.
Fortunately, I was able to work safely right up until a few weeks before giving birth. As a per diem nurse, I did not have any maternity or disability benefits so I wanted to save up as much money as possible before I went out on leave. Thankfully, I was able to do just that. But safety was still my number one concern. I hope this information can help other nurses stay safe during their pregnancies as well.
Talk to your OBGYN
First off, it is always important that you talk to your doctor to discuss any occupational concerns you have during your pregnancy. Continue the dialog at your prenatal appointments as you move along your pregnancy. If you have questions in between your appointments then contact your doctor.
My goal in writing this is not to make pregnant nurses afraid to work in the hospital. I am so glad that I was able to safely work as a pregnant nurse for as long as I did. Still, there are no shortage of occupational hazards for the pregnant nurse within the hospital setting. Working safely is the number one goal.
It is crucial that you communicate with management and your charge nurse about your pregnancy. They cannot help you avoid potential pregnancy hazards if they don’t know that you are expecting.
Pregnant nurse precautions and hazards to consider:
Radiation from diagnostic imaging
In the ER and on most floor units within the hospital, patients often receive portable X-rays at the bedside. So naturally I was concerned about radiation exposure and how it could impact the health of my unborn child. I felt it was wise to air on the side of safety by not exposing myself to unnecessary radiation during pregnancy.
If you are in an area where x-rays are being taken, you must wear a lead radiation apron to protect yourself, especially if you are within six feet of the machine. If possible, it is also a good idea to step outside the room while the image is taken.
In my nursing experience, x-ray technicians usually notify anyone within the vicinity of where imaging is being taken. I was able to leave the area for a few minutes, whether I was wearing a lead apron or not.
- Notify management of pregnancy
- Wear lead radiation apron
- Step outside of room when portable x-rays are taking place
Dangers from working with chemo or other teratogenic medications
There is evidence that handling some medications, such as chemotherapy drugs, can cause adverse reproductive outcomes including fetal loss, miscarriage, infertility and preterm births. In addition, it may cause learning disabilities in babies exposed to some drugs if nurses are exposed during pregnancy.
Wearing protective equipment, such as gowns, masks and gloves can minimize occupational risk to a pregnant nurse. However, it does not completely eradicate it.
Nurses working in oncology or other areas where antineoplastics are prescribed may want to speak with management about the safest way to continue working. In addition, you can insist on getting help from co-workers or management to give teratogenic medications to patients. Moving to another work area may be a consideration if safety for the fetus is still a concern.
- Wear protective equipment when giving medications
- Ask for help from co-workers when working with teratogenic medications
- Consider temporarily working in another area of the hospital during pregnancy as your management allows
Risk for infection
As a pregnant ER nurse I was very concerned with the risk of infection from patients such as c-diff, tuberculosis, cytomegalovirus, and influenza during my pregnancy. Since the ER is often the first stop in the hospital for sick patients I often didn’t know that a patient had a contagious infection until after they had been admitted. By then it was too late to protect myself if I hadn’t already.
Pregnant women need to be especially proactive with protective equipment and hand hygiene. It is ideal for all hospital employees to have their measles, mumps, and varicella zoster vaccinations before pregnancy (most facilities require these vaccinations to work anyway). Hep B and influenza vaccination can also safely be administered during pregnancy.
As an added precaution, I made sure to change my clothes and shoes before leaving the hospital to minimize the risk of work-to-home contamination. The first thing I did upon getting home was take a shower to rid myself of any other possible bugs I could have inadvertently carried home with me.
- Stay up to date in all vaccines including the yearly flu vaccine
- Adhere to strict universal precautions and hand hygiene
- Request job modification to minimize exposure to certain patient populations
- Minimize work-to-home contamination by changing work clothes and shoes before going home
- Shower as soon as you get home from work
Physicality of nursing while pregnant
Being a nurse while pregnant is especially hard work. Not only are we on our feet for up to 12 hours a day, but pregnant nurses are also carrying an extra 25-plus pounds towards the latter part of pregnancy. Additionally, the extra girth makes it significantly more difficult to fit into tight spaces.
Movement becomes even more awkward for pregnant nurses due to having an altered center of gravity. In addition, high serum levels of progesterone and relaxin loosen muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues. For nurses who do a lot of heavy, repetitive work requiring lifting, pulling or pushing their risk of musculoskeletal injury is increased.
It is wise for pregnant nurses to use patient transfer equipment and to ask co-workers for help with moving patients. However, if your work situation is still too physical for you to manage safely during pregnancy, you may want to consider a modified duty in a lower risk setting with a less physical patient load.
On another note, pregnant nurses also have a higher risk of developing varicose veins due to an increase in total blood volume caused by pregnancy. The added blood volume combined with being on one’s feet all day leads to poor circulation, puffy legs and swollen ankles. Compression socks or stockings can help reduce the risk of blood clots and varicose veins as well as prevent swelling.
- Pregnant nurses may want to inquire about modified duty
- Understand how the altered center of gravity and hormonal changes in pregnancy predispose a nurse to injury (despite using best lifting practices)
- Use patient transfer equipment when available
- Ask for additional staff help with transfers
- Wear compression socks or stockings
I worked in our ER psychiatric hold area several times throughout my pregnancy. There were a few incidences where I had patients verbally threaten me and/or begin to escalate towards violence. I always had a security guard with me and I stayed a good distance away from patients when I felt that my safety could be at risk. It is likely that I was overly cautious at times, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
Violence against nurses is not uncommon, especially in the ER setting. Stay vigilant and keep away from any potentially threatening situations. If a patient is escalating towards violence then leave and call for help immediately.
Working during flu season
The CDC recommends that pregnant women get a flu shot. Not only do hormone changes during pregnancy often make pregnant women more susceptible to getting the flu, but a common flu symptom is fever, which may be associated with neural tube defects and other adverse outcomes for a developing baby. Getting vaccinated can also help protect a baby after birth from flu through passive immunity.
My experience: The flu season in December 2017 was unusually bad. Many patients came to our ER for flu symptoms. Unfortunately, almost every nurse was infected with the flu or a cold at least once during the season. Myself, included.
At the time I was over 8 months pregnant and I was really struggling with a how horrible I felt. I always get a flu shot to reduce my chances of getting sick during flu season. However, if I ever got pregnant again, I might consider starting my maternity leave towards the beginning of flu season. Especially, if I was that close to my due date.
An unexpected benefit of working as a nurse during pregnancy
One of the best gifts that pregnancy gave me was that it forced me to not be sedentary on days that I felt really tired. (Although while you are carrying an extra 25-35 pounds of extra weight, you may not consider it a benefit).
Many studies show that not moving enough during pregnancy is bad for both mom and baby. If fact, exercise during pregnancy can actually boost your baby’s brain development and make them smarter. Who knew that working a 12 hour shift might actually promote health for both you and your unborn baby?
Good luck to you during your pregnancy and take care of yourself mama!
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