Many people feel as if they have a calling in life. If your dream is to support women and infants through the grueling process of labor and delivery, then becoming a maternity nurse might be the right career path for you.
Maternity nurses play an important role in the birth environment by ensuring a safe delivery and a healthy start to life. As a maternity nurse, you are in a unique position to comfort and provide emotional support to the woman giving birth since you will be with her so often (while her doctor may not).
But how do you become a maternity nurse? Here are the requirements for pursuing a career in maternity nursing, including what you should study in school and how much you can expect to earn each year.
What does a maternity nurse do?
A maternity nurse is a nurse who supports women before, during, and after childbirth. Medically, she monitors both the mother and her baby while emotionally, she provides education and encouragement for the baby’s parents.
Usually, maternity nurses work in hospitals, but they may also work at birthing centers or community clinics. Depending on where you work, you can expect a more clinical or casual setting with salary fluctuations based on location and seniority.
What are the general requirements to become a maternity nurse?
In order to become a maternity nurse, you need to have a nursing degree from an accredited college or university. Surveys show that most maternity nurses have, at minimum, a bachelor’s or associate’s degree, though many also have Master’s degrees or licensing degrees.
After graduation, you need to pass the NCLEX exam and become licensed as a registered nurse (RN). NCLEX stands for the National Council Licensure Examination, which is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). In the United States, you are required to pass this exam in order to apply for licensure in your state. There are many NCLEX courses and NCLEX prep books that can help assist you on your path towards passing the NCLEX.
Maternity nurses also need to have specialized training in subjects specific to maternity care, such as fetal monitoring. You may learn these techniques through postsecondary education classes, continuing education classes, or from experience while working on-the-job.
Many maternity nurses work in other fields before entering the realm of maternity nursing. Some maternity nursing positions may require you to have at least a few years of experience working in another role before considering your application.
How much do maternity nurses make?
Maternity nurses can expect to make between $69,000 and $112,000, depending on where they are employed. This comes out to about $41 per hour or $7,150 per month.
What are some career paths for maternity nurses?
Depending on your goals and interests, you may want to pursue different paths in maternity nursing. Maternity nurses can work in different locations and positions throughout their career, and potentially work their way up to an administrative role.
Maternity nurses who work in hospitals work in the Labor & Delivery department or maternity ward under the supervision of an OB/GYN doctor. If you choose to work in a hospital as a maternity nurse, you can expect a more clinical setting than if you were to work in an alternative environment.
As a maternity nurse in a hospital ward, you will monitor the baby using an Electronic Fetal Monitor. The monitor consists of two sensors placed on the mother’s baby. Most hospitals prefer to monitor babies continuously, though low-risk pregnancies only require monitoring every 20 minutes.
Working in a hospital, you will also provide continuous IV fluids to the woman giving birth and be responsible for implementing her birth plan, such as whether she wants an epidural. You may also need to assist in the process of inducing labor, if necessary.
While most maternity nurses work in the Labor & Delivery unit of a hospital, you may also work at an outpatient community clinic. Working at a community clinic, you can expect to provide outpatient care to women throughout their pregnancy and even consult on topics like monitoring and predicting ovulation and tracking fertility.
An outpatient setting is less clinical than the hospital but more formal than a birthing center. In a clinic setting, you will work under the supervision of an OB/GYN doctor in an outpatient setting.
You will monitor the health of mothers and their babies when they come in for regular prenatal appointments. With specialized training, you may also operate the ultrasound machine to help parents see their children’s faces for the first time.
If you have a Master’s degree and are licensed to practice as a nurse practitioner (NP), you may be able to provide care to a new mother as her obstetrician. In the event you are the mother’s primary OB, you will also assist in labor and delivery.
If you are looking for a less clinical work environment, you may want to pursue a maternity nursing position at a birthing center rather than a hospital or clinic. Birthing centers are more relaxed and intimate places for mothers to receive prenatal and postnatal care. Often, women giving birth in a birthing center can relax in jacuzzis or lay on a double-bed with their partner while laboring.
As a maternity nurse at a birthing center, you will help keep the mother and her baby safe during labor and delivery. However, you will provide fewer routine medical interventions and less monitoring than if you were to work in a hospital setting. Most mothers who give birth at a birthing center prefer natural, medication-free birth.
Women who give birth in birthing centers tend to be low-risk pregnancies and may not be having their first baby. Still, you will work under the supervision of a backup OB/GYN doctor in the event of a serious medical complication. Birthing centers must still be equipped to handle a medical emergency.
What steps should you take if you want to become a maternity nurse?
If you want to become a maternity nurse, there are a number of steps you may or may not want to take to prepare for your future career. Here is what you should do if you are planning to pursue a career as a maternity nurse, whether at a hospital, outpatient clinic, or birthing center:
1. Complete a nursing degree
Whether you decide to pursue an associate’s, bachelor’s, or Master’s degree in nursing, you will need a nursing degree in order to become a maternity nurse. While it is possible to become a maternity nurse with a high school diploma, many workplaces give priority to applicants with bachelor’s degrees. There are no nursing degrees specific to maternity nursing, but you may want to take electives in obstetrics, labor and delivery, and/or neonatal nursing if possible.
2. Become a licensed RN
Once you graduate, you will need a license to practice nursing in the state where you live. At a minimum, you must earn a registered nurse (RN) license to become a maternity nurse, though if you earn a Master’s degree, you may also be eligible for a nurse practitioner (NP) license. In order to become a licensed RN, you must obtain authorization to take the NCLEX, pass the NCLEX, apply in your state, and wait for approval from your state’s nursing board.
3. Gain experience
Most of what you learn as a maternity nurse, you will learn on the job. Sometimes, you may be required to work for a few years in another field, such as staff nursing, before applying for a maternity nursing position. Otherwise, many hospitals offer internships or residencies for new graduates in nursing specialties such as labor and delivery, perinatal nursing, or neonatal nursing. These programs allow you to work one-on-one with a mentor and gain valuable experience taking care of mothers and infants.
Sylvia Kang is the co-founder and CEO of Mira. Mira is the first FDA and CE registered comprehensive women’s health monitoring platform with 99% accuracy in clinical trials. The Mira wand + app tracks cycles, predicts ovulation, monitors fetal health, measures ovarian reserve and detects menopause at home.