(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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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.
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.
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:
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