Firstly, what is a Maternity Nurse ?
I know the name implies that we are medically trained, but in fact, the name comes from the term ‘nursing’, as in breastfeeding (many years ago part of the role would have included wet nursing). To all intents and purposes, a maternity nurse is a very specialised, self-employed baby nanny, but one which, if required, works 24 hours a day, 6 days a week, for a specified number of days, weeks or months.
We used to be called Monthly Nurses because we stayed for 4 weeks to help mums get over the birth, but nowadays, in response to a much more diverse clientele, there are maternity nurses to fit just about every niche you can think of.
Eden Maternity, the agency I work through, list the following on their books:
As you can see from the list, there is a lot of choice if you feel you are in need of some help
You can book in advance, and get a 24/6 maternity nurse for however long you want, to give you time to recover from the birth, and help with feeding, routine, nights etc. and leave you ready to take over when she leaves.
This can be expensive though, so you can have someone for 2 or 3 days a week, or just days, or just nights.
A Starter maternity nurse is capable in her job, but not yet very experienced so are excellent for second or third time families who know what they are doing but need the extra help. This gives the maternity nurse hands on training, but charge less money so making a more affordable option.
If you find yourself struggling due to illness or complications, or a difficult baby etc., agencies usually have on their books maternity nurses who either have a gap to fill, or prefer not to book themselves up in advance and these are available for emergency, last minute jobs, and can sometimes start the next day if you are very lucky.
There are some (insane ! lol) individuals who prefer, and specialize in, multiple births, and others whose can come in for a short time to troubleshoot specific problems such as sleep, routine, breastfeeding or weaning baby from breast to bottle.
Duties of the Maternity Nurse
The aim of a good maternity nurse should be to help you cope with the baby whilst she is there, and prepare you thoroughly for when she leaves.
A good maternity nurses should have sound, basic knowledge of all aspects of baby care and should be able and willing to answer any questions you have.
She should also help and support you whilst feeding is being established, using whichever method you choose, giving practical help such as getting baby to latch on to the breast, making sure you are comfortable, and have everything you need for a feed.
She should be able to teach you how to wind, change, bathe, dress, handle and bottle feed your baby, and help you safely use any other equipment such as prams, monitors, car seats, slings, and travel cots.
It is also her responsibility to keep the nursery clean and tidy, and to clean and sterilize all bottles, pacifiers, nipple shields and pumping equipment, and to prepare bottle feeds.
Above and beyond this, the best maternity nurses can become a calm, reliable and supportive friend at what can be a very emotional and stressful time, there when you need her, but discreet in her absence when you want to spend time alone with your baby, or as a family.
She should also be willing to help teach your partner, and other people involved in your babies care such as relatives or current nanny so everyone feels confident.
If the situation arises, your maternity nurse can also help with ‘strategic manoeuvres’ such as limiting numbers of visitors, making sure one grandparent doesn’t hog the baby and upset the other, subtly removing an overtired baby from social situations, reminding dads to give mum a hand, reminding mum to allow dad to help out, or protecting/defending mum from critical and unhelpful friends/relatives/health practitioners etc.
A large part of the maternity nurse’s duties involve helping set up whatever sort of routine you want in place, and help with settling baby at night and for daytime sleeps, finding the right routine for the situation, and to take on night feeds where possible or appropriate so the parents can get some much needed sleep. The MN usually sleep in the nursery, or in a spare room with the baby in a moses basket and if mum is breastfeeding, she will bring the baby in to her for a night feed, then take the baby to wind and settle, so mum can go straight back to sleep.
The MN is also there to help take care of the mum by making sure she gets enough rest, making cups of tea or bringing water, and monitoring her for any signs of illness, anxiety or depression. Some MN’s are willing to make light snacks, and others actually enjoy cooking for the mum or the family but this is on a voluntary basis and should not be presumed upon.
The MN is not there to clean, iron, shop, or look after older children or pets, or run errands (or to ‘look after the husbands needs’…(honestly, I have heard of this actually being requested, lol). If she offers to do any of these things (apart from the husband’s needs !) then she is being very generous and should be very much appreciated. However, she should also be aware that she is living in a family environment and, unless the house is heavily staffed, should tidy up after herself so she doesn’t make extra work for you.
The best MN, with the most experience have learned how to adapt themselves to fit in to any household, and to any situation whether that be a small flat, a huge mansion, hotels, hospitals, travel abroad, family emergencies, unexpected visitors, motorway breakdowns, power failures, celebrity clients etc. and all the time, be calm, good humoured, efficient, and basically indispensable but be prepared to book early because they are in great demand.
As they get more experienced, some MN become experts in particular fields, such as sleep training, reflux, premature babies, colic, multiple births, surrogacy, adoption, winding, baby wearing, particular routines, weaning babies from breast to bottle, Post Natal Depression, special needs etc. so if you do have a particular problem it is worth trying to find one of these specialists.
I hope this has given you some ideas as to whether or not a MN can give you the help you need, and in future posts I will be covering:
- Where to Find Your Maternity Nurse
- How to Get the Best from Your MN
- What Happens When Things go Wrong with Your Maternity Nurse
- How to be a good Maternity NurseLet me know if you have any questions or suggestions for future plots by getting in touch!
Sarah Norris is one of the UK’s most accomplished maternity nurses, with over 25 years experience caring for hundreds of babies and families in the UK and internationally.
She treats all babies and families as individuals, and respects all forms of parenting and feeding, aiming to help and empower new parents with sensible, practical tips and advice that is always non judgemental and non biased.
She is the author of ‘The Baby Detective’ with Orion Books, out now.