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Mother and Baby Nursing Specialty: The Ultimate L&D Jobs Guide

In the United States, in the year 2020 alone, 3,613,647 babies were born. Approximately 98.4 percent of these births occurred in the hospital setting. Although when we think about births, labor and delivery is the unit that usually pops into mind, soon after birth, birthing parents and newborns are transferred to mother and baby units, where they remain for one to three days on average. During this hospital stay, mother and baby nurses are at the forefront of postpartum parent and newborn care.

Are you interested in mother and baby nursing? Read on to learn everything there is to know about this essential nursing specialty.

Table of Contents

What Does Mother and Baby Mean in Medical Terms?

mother baby nursing

Mother and baby can refer to the hospital units where new mothers and their babies are cared for postpartum or to the professionals that care for them in these settings. Mothers and their babies are usually transferred to a mother and baby unit from a labor and delivery unit. Mothers may be transferred back to labor and delivery, an intermediate care unit, or an operating room (OR) if they require additional interventions and then return to mother and baby after an immediate recovery period. Newborns requiring care beyond the scope of mother and baby may be transferred to a neonatal intensive care or pediatric unit.

A diversity of healthcare workers and other professionals may help care for mothers and their babies or offer them guidance postpartum. These healthcare professionals may include the following:  

  • Nurses
  • Physicians
  • Midwives
  • Social workers
  • Psychologists and psychiatrists
  • Dietitians
  • Anesthesia professionals
  • Lactation consultants
  • Physical therapists
  • Postpartum doulas

Most birthing parents stay in a mother and baby unit for an average of 1.7 days. Length of stay varies depending on whether mothers had vaginal births or cesarean sections. Mothers stay between twenty-four and forty-eight hours following a vaginal birth and between forty-eight and seventy-two hours after a cesarean section. Postpartum mothers may also stay longer if complications arise, such as sepsis or hypertensive disorders.

Neonates stay on average forty-eight hours in mother and baby units. If they require additional care, their stay in mother and baby units may extend for up to ten days. Common reasons why neonates require additional hospitalization include sepsis, hyperbilirubinemia, and Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

Important medical aspects of neonates’ stay in mother and baby units are newborn screenings and immunizations. Through newborn screenings, clinicians may detect hearing loss or metabolic disorders. Common tests performed on newborns include the following:

  • Hearing
  • Metabolic
  • Endocrine
  • Blood cell
  • Critical congenital heart defects

Furthermore, based on the vaccine schedule suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), newborns receive their first vaccine during their stay in mother and baby: Hepatitis B.

Before being discharged from a hospital, postpartum mothers are checked by their midwives or physicians, and newborns are checked by their pediatric care providers. Lactation consultants also visit mothers and babies to assist with breast or chestfeeding. Additionally, the car that will take the newborn home must have a correctly installed newborn car seat; checking the car seat may be one of the duties of a postpartum nurse. After discharge, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that providers see postpartum patients within the first three weeks following birth and again for a more comprehensive visit within twelve weeks postpartum.

What Does MBU Stand For?

In a hospital setting, the abbreviation MBU stands for mother and baby unit. The MBU is one of the hospital units where postpartum mothers and their newborns are cared for. Other units that care for this population are the labor and delivery unit (L&D), the operating room (OR), the intensive care unit (ICU), and the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

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What Is a Mother and Baby Unit in a Hospital Like?

By definition, mother and baby units are geared toward postpartum mothers and their newborn babies. Many MBUs nowadays have a family-centered approach, encouraging “rooming in,” supporting parents’ participation in newborn care, and offering support with lactation. This “rooming in,” which refers to the postpartum mother and newborn baby sharing a room and sleeping close together, is vital since it contributes to the development of a strong mother-baby bond and promotes breast/chestfeeding. Another vital practice made possible by mother and baby sharing a room is skin-to-skin. According to UNICEF, holding babies skin-to-skin facilitates their adjustment to life outside the womb, assists with breast/chestfeeding, and helps postpartum mothers and newborns bond.

Aside from caring for their patients, postpartum nurses teach new parents essential knowledge and skills to care for their babies. This education usually covers the following topics:

  • Bathing babies and caring for the umbilical cord
  • Changing diapers
  • Calming babies
  • Tips for sleeping safely
  • Car seat safety
  • Abnormal signs and symptoms

Postpartum mothers and their newborn babies often stay in private or shared rooms and can often be accompanied overnight by their partners or another family member. Visits by family and friends are also allowed, including children. In some cases, children are also permitted to stay overnight. Aside from babies’ cries, mother and baby units are quieter and calmer than labor and delivery, where babies are born.

What Does a Mother and Baby Nurse Do?

mother baby nursing

Postpartum nurses in mother and baby units assess, diagnose, and treat stable and high-risk postpartum mothers and newborns. They also manage postpartum mothers’ pain and monitor possible complications, such as postpartum hemorrhage, hypertensive disorders, and symptoms of pre-eclampsia. Another crucial part of a postpartum nurse’s role is supporting family-centered care by teaching newborn care, assisting with lactation, and promoting mother-infant bonding.

“Duties include your usual stuff: vitals on mom and baby, assessments including fundal checks, breastfeeding assistance, sometimes giving blood/fluids but generally few IV meds, lots of pain control” Redditu/LinkRN

“Lots of teaching and providing emotional support! Very task oriented as well – a big checklist of things to complete for mom and baby to go home. You may find that some of your nursing skills slip away such as IV starts, foleys since you’re mainly just pulling those. Can be repetitive and lots of patience is needed when it comes to helping with breastfeeding!” Redditu/MelanatedRN

What Is the Role of Each Type of Mother and Baby Nurse?

Depending on their qualifications, each type of mother and baby nurse may have different responsibilities.

Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) assist postpartum mothers and help make them comfortable under the supervision of a registered nurse (RN).

RNs assess both mothers and newborns, provide infant care education, and prepare mother and baby for discharge. They are trained to recognize both normal and abnormal characteristics in postpartum mothers and newborn babies.

In the case of advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), their scope of practice and specific duties vary by state.

  • Twenty-two states allow full-practice nurse practitioners (NPs), meaning that NPs can prescribe medication, diagnose patients and provide treatment autonomously.
  • Seventeen states allow reduced-practice NPs. In these states, physicians must authorize the prescription of medication.
  • Twelve states restrict the scope of practice of NPs, requiring a physician’s supervision for all tasks.
  • Other states allow NPs to prescribe certain types of medication.

How to Become a Mother and Baby Nurse?

mother baby nurse

Nurses at all levels of training and experience—LPNs, RNs, and APRNs—may work in mother and baby units. Nevertheless, to become certified as mother and baby or postpartum nurses, potential nurses should begin by becoming licensed RNs. There are two main pathways to becoming an RN: pursuing an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in nursing. After passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and becoming licensed, RNs can move on to the next step: certification.

Mother and Baby Nurse Certification

There are many certification options for RNs working or interested in working with postpartum mothers and newborns:

  • Low-risk neonatal nurse
  • Maternal newborn nurse
  • Neonatal intensive care nurse
  • Inpatient obstetric nurse

General requirements for any of these certifications include having a valid RN license, working as an RN for at least two years, and accruing a minimum of 2,000 clinical hours in mother and baby nursing.

Furthermore, MBU jobs may also require nurses to complete a neonatal stabilization course as well as twenty hours of lactation education.  

Becoming a Postpartum APRN

Instead of pursuing RN certifications or in addition to them, nurses may decide to complete higher studies to become APRNs. APRNs usually become RNs first and work in this capacity for a few years before continuing their education. They may decide to obtain a master of science in nursing (MSN), a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree, or a Ph.D. in nursing.

There are four paths that nurses can choose on their way to becoming APRNs:

  • Certified nurse practitioner (CNP): Among other possibilities, CNPs may work with neonatal and women’s health populations. They promote health, prevent disease, provide health education and counseling, and diagnose and treat diseases.
  • Clinical nurse specialist (CNS): The work scope and role of these APRNs include patients, nurses, the nursing practice, and the healthcare organization. They also diagnose and treat diseases, promote health, and prevent illness and risk behaviors in the populations they care for.  
  • Certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA): These APRNs may work with any population, including postpartum mothers and neonates, providing anesthesia care and anesthesia-related care.
  • Certified nurse-midwife (CNM): CNMs are specially prepared to provide primary healthcare services to women throughout their lives, including caring for postpartum mothers and newborns. They may work in hospitals, birth centers, ambulatory care settings, and even homes.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Mother and Baby Nurse?

How long it takes to become a postpartum nurse depends on the level of education nurses decide to pursue. The following are the approximate lengths of different nursing programs:

  • LPN: one year and a half
  • RN with an ADN: two years
  • RN with a BSN: four years
  • RN with postpartum nursing certification: four to six years
  • APRN: six years or more

How Much Do Mother and Baby Nurses Make?

Since 98.4 percent of births in the United States occur in hospitals, it is safe to say that most mother and baby nurses work in the hospital setting. Depending on the level of education that nurses have obtained, here are the average annual salaries for nurses in the hospital setting based on information from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Licensed practical nurses: $48,050
  • Registered nurses: $85,020
  • Advanced practice registered nurses: $122,960

What Is Mother and Baby Nursing Like?

As in all healthcare settings, nurses are the healthcare professionals that spend the most time with patients. However, as opposed to many other healthcare settings, such as long-term care facilities, RNs constitute the majority of nursing staff. The following percentages represent the prevalence of different types of nurses and other staff in MBUs:

  • Registered nurses: 78%
  • Certified nursing assistants: 17%
  • Support technicians: 14%
  • Licensed practical nurses: 2%

Nurse-to-patient ratios vary from facility to facility, but, in many hospitals, one registered nurse is responsible for three to four mother and baby pairs without complications, making a total of six to eight patients per nurse. Nurses caring for mothers or babies with complications have lower patient ratios.

Is Mother and Baby Nursing Hard?

mother baby nurse

The best way to learn about a nursing specialty—aside from working in the area—is by hearing about it from nurses themselves. Here are some of the challenges of working as a postpartum nurse:

“Cons: really feast or famine – you can be unexpectedly short staffed if tons of people come in in spontaneous labor, or you can have zero patients. Can be boring/very routine – especially at night…Lots of admits/discharges….” Redditu/LinkRN

“Fathers are the most draining as they want the same attention as the mother. They want snacks and meals and will page you for their needs as well. Overall it was my favorite floor to work on.” Redditu/mmabc

Why Choose Mother and Baby Nursing?

Although working in an MBU has its challenges, many nurses wouldn’t change their jobs for any other. Here are the reasons why:

“Seeing those first moments with mom and baby.” Redditu/josefinabobdilla

“I started in couplet care and fell in love with it. I enjoy the educating my new families, helping with breastfeeding, encouraging my parents to advocate for themselves and babies.” Redditu/lyeary

Tips for New Nurses: What Makes a Good Postpartum Nurse?

Childbirth marks an important day in a mother’s life and one that mothers don’t forget. According to a study by Penny Simkin, one of the factors that most affects how mothers will feel about and remember the births of their children is how healthcare professionals treat them—even more so than the difficulty of their labors. Simply being aware of the importance of the time surrounding childbirth will help new nurses be great at their jobs. That said, here are some qualities new postpartum nurses should also strive to develop:

  • Patience: Many patients will be first-time birthing parents and may not have any experience with or knowledge of breast/chestfeeding, burping babies, changing diapers, or caring for babies in general. Part of a postpartum nurse’s role is to educate them on how to care for their babies.
  • Thoughtfulness: Going the extra mile to help families adapt to their new roles will make a world of difference for them. Sneaking in an extra popsicle or jello for an older child will make them feel cared for and special at a time when older siblings tend to feel left out.
  • Proactivity: Nurses may pick up on needs of birthing people or their families that may not be met after leaving the hospital. Therefore, an excellent postpartum nurse helps connect their patients with useful resources. For example, a new mother who is having difficulties with breastfeeding would benefit from contacting La Leche League and joining a support group online or in person.

Final Thoughts on Postpartum Nursing

Whether you are a newly graduated nurse or an experienced nurse considering a career change, this complete guide to mother and baby nursing will help you decide if this specialty is for you.
That said, as important as information is, nothing beats hands-on experience. Therefore, consider picking up per diem shifts in as many settings and roles as possible to help you decide which nursing job is ideal for you.

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