Maternal and pediatric nursing are two specialized fields among many nursing options. Although a very natural process, human reproduction is an area in which the skills of the nurse are critical to a successful outcome for both mother and child. As the child grows, preventive care helps promote health and proper physical, emotional and social development. The nurse is often the health care professional who works most closely with both mother and child, and who is uniquely positioned to identify potential problems in development or parent/child interactions. Nurses who work in the area of maternal and pediatric care will find themselves in an array of work settings, including the home. Nurses in these fields can build relationships with their patients that last for many years.
Maternal Nursing Care
Maternity nursing care begins in the prenatal period. Although some women may seek care earlier, an expectant mother is most likely to enter the healthcare system somewhere between the fourth and twelfth week of pregnancy. Should that entry be delayed until the second or even third trimester, the risk of complications rises. The nurse may provide maternal care at any point during the prenatal period, during labor and delivery or in the post-partum period. Few nurses, however, are present during each stage of a pregnancy for an individual woman, so the nurse’s ability to communicate with other members of the health care team is vitally important skill. An offshoot of maternal health nursing is the specialty practice of fertility promotion and preconception maternal health.
Pediatric Nursing Care
Pediatric care begins in the immediate period after delivery and continues until the child is considered an adult, usually at the age of 18. It encompasses all phases of development. Although pediatric care includes nursing a child who is injured, ill or has a developmental disability, in many cases, the nurse working in pediatrics is focused on preventive care and the promotion of normal child development.
Skills Needed in Maternal and Pediatric Nursing Care
The skills a nurse brings to the fields of maternal and pediatric care are similar to those for nursing in general. The nurse must perform a physical assessment and identify both normal and abnormal conditions. Critical thinking and good judgment are important skills in this field. Nurses who work in the field of maternal and pediatric nursing care must have basic knowledge of such issues as anatomy and physiology, nutrition, pharmacology, medical terminology and human psychology. In maternal nursing care all knowledge must be filtered through the lens of the stages of pregnancy, which affects so many biological functions. In pediatric care, the most important aspect is what constitutes normal human development and how illness, injury or disability can affect that development. In both areas, the nurse must have the skills to build rapport across the age continuum.
Nurses in the field of maternal and pediatric care must also be detail-oriented and alert to even subtle changes in their patients. It should go without saying that the nurse should have high ethical standards to prevent such problems as a breach of confidentiality and to ensure the accurate and safe delivery of nursing care.
Personal Characteristics of a Nurse in Maternal or Pediatric Care
Skill and knowledge are only part of the picture in maternal and pediatric nursing. Certain personal characteristics will also help the nurse be successful. For example, empathy, compassion, approachability and accessibility in the nurse are often seen as important qualities, especially by first-time mothers. If the nurse is the sort of person who is naturally good with children, pediatric nursing may be the right field. The ability to build and maintain a trusting relationship with a child who is hurt or scared is vitally important in pediatrics.
Teaching and communication skills are critically important. Nurses must have the ability to communicate concepts clearly but to change the approach according to the child’s developmental level. Nurses who work in the fields of maternal and pediatric care must also have the ability to work collaboratively with other health-care disciplines. Children with disabilities, for example, often require the services of the nurse as well as physical therapists. Mothers who have experienced domestic violence need counseling as well as nursing care. In both maternal and pediatric nursing, the ability for self-care is also important, since both fields offer satisfaction to the nurse.
Nursing Tasks in Maternal Care
Nursing tasks in maternal care include many basics, such as nursing documentation, hygiene, sterile technique and patient transfer techniques. Others that are specific to maternal nursing include:
- Obtaining a health history specifically related to this and previous pregnancies.
- Performing pregnancy and other lab or diagnostic tests and interpreting them for the patient.
- Patient education about the normal stages of pregnancy and child development.
- Assessment of fetal well-being.
- Caring for women who have developed complications related to pregnancy, such as toxemia.
- Assisting a woman through the stages of labor and delivery.
Nursing Care of the Newborn
Pediatric nursing care begins in the immediate postpartum period. Once the child is safely delivered, the nurse must:
- Provide immediate care such as suctioning mucous, keeping the infant warm, cleaning the baby and administering medications.
- Assist the mother in breastfeeding or basic newborn care.
- Assess for signs of problems such as respiratory distress.
Pediatric Care of the Toddler, Child and Adolescent
During the first five or six years of life, children grow and change very fast. Nurses who work in this field must have extensive knowledge of the stages of child and adolescent development. Much of the focus of pediatric care is on physical, emotional and social development. Nursing tasks in this area include:
- Building relationships with parent and child (outpatient pediatric care occurs over a period of years).
- Assessing vision, hearing, height and weight.
- Administration of immunizations according to the standard schedules.
- Performing child and parent education.
- Obtaining specimens for laboratory tests.
- Serving as a child advocate.
- Identifying signs of abuse and neglect.
Work Settings in Maternal and Pediatric Care
Nurses who work in maternal and pediatric care have three major options when it comes to work settings which include outpatient care, hospital care and community health.
Outpatient work settings include doctors’ offices, clinics and outpatient surgical care. Clinics may be freestanding, such as a community health center, or part of a larger hospital system. Home health is often a hybrid of outpatient care and hospital care, as the nurse performs tasks that may occur in both work settings.
Nurses who work with children in the acute care environment might work in the newborn nursery or in the neonatal unit, caring for high risk newborns. In a general pediatric unit, the nurse works with children who have an illness or injury or who require surgery. Specialty pediatric units in a hospital include the pediatric critical care unit, oncology and other specialty units.
Public health departments provide employment for many nurses. Pediatric nurses also work in school settings. Community groups dedicated to the health of mothers and children may also offer employment in this field. For example, community groups might work in the field of nutrition for mothers and children, in child abuse prevention or in parenting education. A final option for a community health work setting is in the field of nursing education.
Nursing is a demanding field but one that also offers the opportunity for great personal and professional satisfaction. In addition, nursing offers considerable flexibility in terms of work setting, time of day and specialty. Maternal and pediatric care nurses can have a major influence in the health of both individuals and the community by promoting healthy child development and good parenting skills through their work. Since they often work with individuals over the course of months or years, they are uniquely positioned to recognize subtle changes with a high potential for problems. It is often the nurse who has the potential to prevent adverse outcomes by recognizing signs of child abuse and neglect, or maternal health issues such as domestic violence and substance abuse.
Did learning about maternal and pediatric care interest you? The Associate of Science in Nursing degree program at Gwinnett College provides training to prepare college graduates to enter the nursing profession as a registered nurse. Classroom theory, challenging assignments, skill labs, simulations, and clinical experiences help to prepare college graduates for an entry-level nursing position.
Upon successful completion of the program and demonstrated nursing competence, the college graduates will be eligible to apply to take the NCLEX-RN licensure examination.* Upon graduation and licensure, college graduates will be eligible to seek employment in hospitals, clinics, private duty, urgent and acute care centers, and various other medical or business facilities requiring the services of registered nurses.
*While Gwinnett Institute provides test preparation and review assistance to college students, it cannot guarantee any college student will be able to take or pass any type of licensure exam. College students must be mindful throughout their entire training program that licensure is a pre-requisite for employment as a nurse and to diligently prepare themselves to meet this important requirement.
Contact us today to learn more about becoming an RN at Gwinnett College.