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Working as a nurse while pregnant? Tips for a happy, healthy pregnancy

Working as a professional who constantly looks after others is a good background when you need to nurture an unborn child. But pregnant nurses also have to take care of themselves, and that might not come as naturally. For a happy, healthy pregnancy when you work as a nurse, try to adopt both medical best practices and mental health measures.

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Here are the top tips from nursing and obstetric experts:

Expect your on-the-job eating habits to change.

Especially if plans for leave, job security and maybe just a desire for privacy have made you decide to keep news of the pregnancy to yourself for the first 12 weeks, it can be tough to handle sudden pregnancy symptoms. Morning sickness is probably top of the list, and Ausmed recommended "planning shifts around when morning sickness may strike you the hardest, breathing exercises and regularly eating and drinking (if you are able to)."

Nurse or not, you'll also have to eat properly, noted Rehabilitation CNS and Nurse Educator Sally Moyle in Ausmed. "Even though I haven't experienced morning sickness, I still felt changes in my body that forced me to change the way I worked as a nurse, and one of these changes was hunger. When I was hungry… I was hungry! And if I didn't eat, then I would get nauseous."

Even though she was previously one of those nurses who postponed eating for hours and hours, "suddenly I was finding myself looking for food by the time I had finished handover!" Moyle added. Her eventual solution: "Making sure I had snacks in my pocket for those times of extreme hunger when I simply couldn't leave the ward."

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Recognize that you can't do all the same tasks as before.

While you may feel shy about drawing attention to yourself at work, the plain truth is there are certain patients and situations you'll need to avoid. "Pregnant nurses may wish to avoid taking care of patients with active shingles or varicella zoster infections, as well as patients on airborne precautions," according to Daily Nurse. "A pregnant ED nurse may also wish to limit exposure to pathogens by reducing time spent in triage, if possible."

Avoid the flu.

"Pregnant women who get the flu are more likely than women who don't get it to have problems, like preterm labor and premature birth," according to the March of Dimes. As for that flu shot, go ahead and get it, Daily Nurse advised: "Pregnant nurses should be immunized against influenza; the vaccine is safe for women in all stages of pregnancy." And there's an unexpected bonus: "Flu antibodies are also passed to the fetus," DN added.

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Beware musculoskeletal injuries.

According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of the Belgian Society of Radiology, "Pregnancy-induced hormonal and physical changes increase the risk of musculoskeletal problems." Basically, as your ligaments start to stretch in preparation for labor, you're more susceptible. "For nurses, this can be particularly important when you consider the manual handling tasks we are required to perform every day, and the fact the nurses have one of the highest rates of workplace musculoskeletal injuries compared to other industries," DN added.

Be careful of drug-related occupational hazards.

There are other aspects of nursing that can put both the mom and her fetus' health at risk. DN lists a few, including ionizing radiation and drugs and pharmaceutical agents with known fetotoxicity. "Medication preparation is risky, and pregnant nurses may be exposed to hazardous drugs through skin absorption, inhalation, accidental contact, or needle-stick injuries," DN said. "Nurses should at the very least wear gloves while drawing up any medications or handling drugs, and at the most, should avoid handling known chemotherapeutic agents such as methotrexate."

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Hope you don't need a modified schedule, but don't fight it if you do.

Sometimes a pregnant nurse will need a modified shift schedule, particularly later in the pregnancy. It's probably not your ideal situation, but if it's what you need for a happy and healthy pregnancy, make it happen. "Nursing is already a physically rigorous vocation, but add in the fatigue of pregnancy and it can be extremely physiologically demanding," ND noted. "Later in pregnancy, back pain and sciatica can interfere with nurses' ability to continue working until their baby is full term. Additionally, the 12-hour shifts typical for most hospital nurses become more taxing later in pregnancy, and it may be necessary for the pregnant nurse to request a modification to shorter shifts or part-time hours."

Of course, you don't have to assume that will happen, nor should you jump to the conclusion you'll need special hours or duties before it's obvious you need them. "The best solutions for pregnant nurses are to enlist colleagues for help when possible, to always use safe-lift equipment when available, and to speak up when requiring assistance," ND said. In some cases, pregnant nurses who are having a tough time with their standard duties might be covered under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

ND also advised nurses who are pregnant or planning to start a family to get familiar with their state and employer's Family Medical Leave Act policies and eligibility requirements. But don't let the red tape and extra precautions rob you of the joy of being pregnant, even if you work full-time right up to the day you deliver. "Take care of yourself and listen to your body," Moyle advised. "And remember to take time out to relax and enjoy your pregnancy."

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