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Nursing is a challenging career, and working 12 hour shifts as a pregnant nurse is no exception. In fact, most pregnant nurses are concerned about occupational precautions as well as the health of their unborn babies at some point during their pregnancies.
Some of the questions I asked when I was working as a pregnant nurse were:
Was I going to be able to tolerate being on my feet all day?
What is the best way to prevent dehydration as a pregnant nurse working 12 hour shifts?
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. In fact, many nurses work all the way through their pregnancies until a few weeks or days before they give birth. This information is intended to help you thrive while working as a nurse while pregnant.
Talk to you OBGYN about your concerns about working as a pregnant nurse
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.
It is also crucial that you communicate with hospital 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.
Physical challenges of working as a nurse while pregnant
The physicality of working as a pregnant nurse can be very difficult for some women, especially for those working on high acuity floors such as the Emergency Department and Intensive Care Unit. However, many hospital units are able to offer modified duty for pregnant nurses who have instructions from their doctors to stay off their feet.
However, there are still a few physical challenges that pregnant nurses should consider during nursing shifts:
Working night shift or rotating schedules
Standing and walking for long periods of time
Managing nausea during shifts
Additional pregnant nurse precautions and occupational hazards to consider
Nursing is unique to many other professions because there are a lot of additional occupational hazards to consider, especially for the pregnant nurse. Working as a nurse while pregnant can be dangerous for both mom and fetus, therefore it is always important to wear the correct protective equipment or even possible refrain from working with some patients with highly infectious diseases.
Here are a few pregnant nurse precautions to consider:
Radiation from diagnostic imaging
Standing and walking for long periods of time
Working with chemo or other teratogenic medications
Risk of infections such as c-diff, tuberculosis, cytomegalovirus, and influenza
Physicality of working as a pregnant nurse (such as pulling patients up in bed)
Increased risk of varicose veins due to standing for long periods of time
Compression socks and stockings help pregnant 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.
Compression stockings 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.
Working as a nurse while pregnant requires that you fuel your body with healthy nutrients to keep your energy up!
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:
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 pregnant nurses deal with stress throughout their pregnancies.
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:
Low impact aerobics
6. Reconsider working the night shift
Working the night shift can be especially challenging for nurses during their pregnancies. 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 pregnant 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.
If the answer is yes, that’s awesome! You are working in an honorable and philanthropically rewarding field. But unfortunately, if you are like a lot of hardworking shift workers, you may at times feel overworked, exhausted, and even burned out.
With a little preparation and focus on your well-being, you can be both a healthy nurse and give great care to your patients. Its time to focus on nurse self-care!
11 tips to THRIVE as a nurse during 12-hour shifts:
Nurse self-care should be a priority. That includes getting a good night’s sleep!
Nursing schedules revolve around a need for 24/7 patient care. Sleep deprivation is a real concern, especially for those working night shifts. Nurse self-care starts with a good night (or in some cases day) of sleep. Here are a few tips to encourage healthier sleep habits after you complete a 12-hour shift:
Turn off the tv (an hour of sleep is always more important than another episode)
Get your heart rate up on your days off! The benefits of exercise have been well documented is essential for nurse self-care. It is no secret that regular exercise helps control weight, boosts overall energy, improves your mood, and helps decrease stress levels. Not only does exercise benefit the nurse personally, but it also allows nurses to have the stamina to give better care to patients as well.
Need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A yoga session or brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Which, in turn, will help manage caregiver burden and help you feel your best.
#3. Grocery shop
A well-balanced diet is essential for nurse health and wellness.
Grocery shopping is so important for nurses and other hospital workers to ensure proper nutrition. It is no secret that healthy food choices are crucial for overall good health and well-being. Make sure you are filling your plate with high-density vitamins and minerals. You simply can’t maintain good energy and stamina over a 12-hour shift on sugary snacks and fast food!
Plan ahead by creating a grocery list of the foods you want to eat while you are at work. That way, you won’t be tempted to reach for something unhealthy when you have a few moments to eat in-between caring for patients.
Tips for nurses to make healthy meals fast: Try making a big batch of quinoa, brown rice, or black bean pasta to have handy in the fridge. These are a few great staples that you can build a nourishing meal around. When you get hungry, you can mix in a protein, veggies, nuts or seeds, dried fruits, or even just enjoy them with a little olive oil and sea salt. The key is to have healthy food that is easy to prepare BEFORE you get super hungry.
#4. Eat a healthy breakfast
Oats: a nutritious yet straightforward way to start a 12-hour shift (nurse self-care can be tasty!)
Studies show that eating a nutritious breakfast (as opposed to the doughnuts and other goodies often found in the breakroom) can help give you:
More strength and endurance to engage in physical activity and maintaining stamina to survive through a 12-hour shift.
Improved concentration, which can help you give better patient care.
A diet higher in complete nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Tips for nurses to ensure that you have a nutritious meal ready before each 12-hour shift: Make several mason jars of overnight oats with a variation of these flavors: blueberry/strawberry/raspberry, peanut butter, and maple, banana and walnut, or almond and raisin. You can add ground flaxseed or chia seeds for extra protein and antioxidant benefits. Then top it off with a dash of cinnamon for a delicious ready-to-eat breakfast.
Nurse break rooms are notorious for having sugary snacks like donuts, cookies, or other unhealthy junk food all within an arms reach. Sweets are so tempting to nibble on when you are tired and need a little extra energy. But then a few moments later you crash and are even more tired. On another note, eating nutritious and easy snacks will keep you energized during a 12-hour shift.
Pack snacks like these in your lunch bag to help keep your blood sugar levels balanced during your shift:
Baby carrots, broccoli or other veggies & hummus
Celery and almond butter
Granola and yogurt
Almonds or cashews
Sliced apples and peanut butter
Cottage cheese with pineapple or banana
#7. Don’t overdo caffeine
Green tea: a healthy drink for 12-hour shift workers!
Many studies suggest that coffee and tea have incredible health benefits while also giving you an extra boost of energy. Unfortunately, caffeine can also have the opposite effect by leading to rebound fatigue after it leaves your system. Therefore, it’s a good idea to aim for moderate caffeine intake to help minimize rebound fatigue.
Additionally, one of the drawbacks of too much caffeine late in a 12-hour shift is that it can also cause insomnia. And nurses need their sleep to help recover from the hard work we do taking care of patients each day!
Extra tip: Green teas (like this one) can give you an energy boost with additional antioxidant benefits and without the caffeine jitters!
#8. Get good shoes
Nurses must invest in good shoes to maintain foot health.
I have been alternating between my Dansko clogs and New Balance tennis shoes as a nurse for over six years. My feet thank me for it. Invest in quality footwear that is built to protect the feet of busy hospital workers who are on their feet all day.
“I wish I didn’t invest in comfortable, sturdy shoes,” said no nurse ever.
Drink water throughout your 12-hour shift and stay hydrated!
Have you ever worked an entire shift and realized at the end that you forgot to drink water for the whole day. It is so easy to do when you are extremely busy with back to back patients and heavy work assignments.
Invest in a good water bottle with a seal-able lid (to prevent accidental spillage). Keep it where you do most of your charting in the nurse’s station. And try to make it a priority to drink your water every hour during your shift to stay hydrated.
Make your own chia seed water: Add 3 tbsp of organic chia seeds to your water bottle and mix well (you can add more or less to your liking). Within a few hours, the seeds will blow up in size and into a gelatinous consistency.
(Chia seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, rich in antioxidants, fiber, iron, and calcium. Just another easy way to add nutrients into your busy day!)
Prevention of varicose veins: Standing for extended periods causes valves in the veins to become weakened, causing blood to collect in the veins. This causes the veins to enlarge, increase in pressure and stretch, causing unsightly varicose veins.
Improved blood flow and decreased risk of blood clots: A study by The Society of Occupational Medicine found that wearing compression stockings significantly decreased lower limb venous pressure in nurses who stood for very long hours.
Decreased swelling of ankles and feet: Swollen ankles and feet are a common side effect of being on one’s feet for a 12-hour shift.
Many nurses who wear compression socks say that their legs “feel more energized” after a 12-hour shift. Pregnant shift workers are especially at risk of leg swelling (due to increased blood volumes during pregnancy) and should consider wearing them to prevent venous issues.
Nurses need yoga, period. Not only does yoga replenishes depleted reserves after a 12-hour shift, but a relaxed and more focused nurse can give better patient care.
Yoga’s amazing benefits on physical and mental health are well documented in the literature. The Mayo Clinic has stated that “yoga may help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lower your heart rate,” among many other benefits.
Nurse self-care in the form of yoga is scientifically proven to be beneficial:
Stress management. A study published in the National Institute of Biotechnology Information investigated the effects of yoga on stress coping strategies of ICU nurses. After only eight 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 eight 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%. Yoga not only increases flexibly but increases muscle strength and prevents injuries such as chronic lower back pain.
Are you a nurse who is experiencing burnout and want to live a healthier life? Nurse self-care should not be an afterthought. Do you have any other self-care tips for nurses that you would like to add? Leave a comment!