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7 Tips for Working as a Nurse While Pregnant

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN
Updated May 16, 2023
    Working as a nurse while pregnant can be mentally and physically challenging. Review these tips that can help you and the baby stay active and healthy.
    • Pregnancy can be mentally and physically demanding.
    • Nurses should understand their legal rights as pregnant workers.
    • Take steps when working as a nurse while pregnant to lower risks of stress and health complications.

    Nursing is an incredibly rewarding profession. Yet, it can be physically challenging, especially if you’re working as a nurse while pregnant. For example, changing hormones during pregnancy can impact your mood and, in turn, affect your work day. And, pregnant nurses may find it more difficult to meet the physical challenges of being on their feet throughout their shift.

    Fortunately, you can balance your responsibilities and your and your baby’s health needs. Know your legal rights and strategies to protect your mental and physical health so that you can work right up to the date of delivery, if you choose.

    Understanding Your Legal Rights as a Pregnant Worker

    The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission helps protect the rights of pregnant workers. You may also have the legal right to request work adjustments so you can continue to do your job without jeopardizing your health or the health of your baby.

    These rights are provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). Depending on your situation, you may also have rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act and other state and local laws.

    Employers cannot fire employees, force them to take leave, or give them a lesser assignment due to the employee being pregnant. Employees are also protected from any harassment on the job under the ADA and PDA.

    If you are unable to do your job because of a medical condition related to the pregnancy or because of the pregnancy, your employer may be able to give accommodations. If you’re unable to complete your regular job even with an accommodation, your employer can alter your workload, which may come with a pay reduction.

    However, your employer can only reduce your pay if you need accommodations to do your regular job.

    To work as a nurse while pregnant, you may request accommodations that help you complete your shift, such as:

    • Working half-shifts
    • Using a stool or chair while bedside charting
    • Working with a nurse’s aide
    • Having assignments located close together and close to the nurse’s station
    • Working under a modified policy to eat or drink at the nurse’s station
    • Limiting interactions with infectious patients

    7 Tips for Working as a Nurse While Pregnant

    1 | Communicate Your Needs With Your Employer

    It is reasonable to expect that your pregnancy will affect your day-to-day work, so it is crucial to be transparent with your team members and management.

    For example, during the early months, you may get nauseous around certain smells or situations that didn’t bother you before. Or you may need more frequent bathroom breaks or time to hydrate during your shift.

    These accommodations may affect your colleagues. It’s important to communicate with everyone sooner rather than later. Although you may not want to tell everyone before 12 weeks, you should consider telling one or two close colleagues in case of an emergency.

    2 | Plan Ahead

    Realize that challenges will come along during your pregnancy, so it’s important to be prepared to address them. Nursing is a physically demanding job that can become tricky when you’re also navigating a growing belly and an altered center of gravity.

    Plan ahead with your nurse manager and stay in touch with them as the pregnancy progresses. You might notice that everyday activities become more challenging, which may warrant a conversation about what you can and cannot do.

    This not only might help relieve your stress as a nurse but can help management better prepare for limited activity.

    3 | Take Precautions Against Occupational Hazards

    Nursing also may expose you to occupational hazards that other pregnant people don’t encounter. For example, pay attention to radiation exposure from diagnostic imaging equipment. Pregnant nurses should not work with chemotherapy or other teratogenic medications.

    Walking and standing for long periods can increase the risk of varicose veins. Also, be aware of any violent patients and family members working as a nurse who can put your physical health in danger.

    4 | Support Your Legs and Feet

    During pregnancy, a nurse can expect swelling in their legs and feet. Compression stockings are a great addition to your wardrobe, even when you’re not pregnant. They can help encourage good circulation, fight foot and leg pain, and help reduce swelling.

    There are a wide variety of different compression socks, so you’ll likely find socks that meet your needs. If your thighs are swelling, consider maternity compression socks that extend higher up your leg.

    A good supportive pair of nursing shoes can also help reduce foot and leg pain. It can also reduce back pain when you’re standing or walking for 8-12 hours a day. Look for good arch support, good cushioning, and slip-resistant soles to prevent falls.

    5 | Eat, Hydrate, and Sleep

    These three tactics can help you stay healthy and protect the health of your baby when you’re working as a nurse while pregnant. Pack your own meals and snacks so you can eat throughout the day. This helps ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need, and when you don’t have time for a lunch or dinner break, you’ll still have something to eat.

    Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. This is crucial to fend off urinary tract or bladder infections, constipation, hemorrhoids, and premature labor.

    Sleep is not only restorative for you but also for your baby. Get 7-8 hours of sleep each night in a dark room with little to no light. This helps protect your melatonin production and increases the likelihood you’ll have a restful night’s sleep.

    6 | Know Your Limits

    After years of knowing your limits without a pregnancy, you may be forced to adjust your routine. One of a nurse’s greatest strengths is endurance, but it can also be one of the greatest downfalls. Pregnancy can leave a nurse more physically and mentally fatigued than normal.

    As the body prepares for pregnancy, ligaments and muscles become more relaxed, which can lead to greater discomfort. It is important to know and recognize your limits as well as work within them.

    7 | Prioritize Yourself and Your Baby

    A nurse’s job is to promote the health and safety of their patients. During pregnancy, it’s important to prioritize your and your baby’s health. You may hope to work up until you’re ready to deliver, but some pregnant people require more rest before birth than others.

    In fact, each pregnancy is unique. So while you may have worked until the end of the last pregnancy, you may need more time before birth with the current pregnancy.

    How Employers Can Support Pregnant Nurses

    Employers can take several steps to support pregnant nurses. This has the advantage of helping organizations to retain qualified staff during pregnancy and increase the potential they return after pregnancy leave.

    Employers can help create supportive networks within the organization for new parents. During a first pregnancy, new parents are often unsure of the types of shoes, compression stockings, and scrubs that are available to support their physical needs. These support networks become a place where new parents can exchange information and equipment.

    Organizations can also work with pregnant employees before they ask for accommodations. Taking a proactive approach to ensure the health of the nurse and child increases employee satisfaction and results in goodwill and good word-of-mouth advertising for the organization. These accommodations can include helping nurses to avoid occupational hazards that may impact their health and the health of their child.

    Organizations can also create a culture where nonpregnant nurses routinely check in with their pregnant colleagues. Sometimes, it only takes knowing you have the support of your colleagues to help offset the mental and physical strain so common in pregnancy.