The arrival of a baby brings excitement and joy, but can also be an overwhelming time, filled with new responsibilities and challenges. First-time parents may feel uncertain about the best way to care for their newborn, parents with older children might be trying to balance everyone's needs, and the arrival of twins calls for more hands on deck.
Help is available, though, and whatever a family's situation, a maternity nurse can provide home-based baby care, and expert support for parents as they adjust to their new family dynamic. To see how a maternity nurse can make things easier in those first weeks, we spoke with Nisha, a qualified nurse and maternity nurse, who has dedicated her career to caring for newborns and babies under 12 months.
Thanks so much for your time, Nisha. Could you please explain what services a maternity nurse provides?
Well, before the baby is born, I will advise parents on what equipment they may need and meet with them to ensure we have a good rapport before the newborn arrives.
After the birth, I then work with the family during the day or night – depending on what the parents would like.
I provide support with sleep by establishing a night-time routine and introducing good sleep habits. I help with settling and feeding the baby, and I also educate the parents around baby care. For instance, I'll show them how to change nappies, sterilise equipment, keep the cot safe, use appropriate comforters, and also how to wean and feed the baby as they grow. Some maternity nurses also assist with lactation consulting, although this depends on their individual qualifications.
How long do you usually work with a family and how many hours might you work each day – or night?
This depends on the parents and their needs. A typical contract is for at least the first four weeks after birth and that's quite often extended.
In terms of hours, night shifts are usually at least eight hours long - from 10pm to 6am as a guide - and day shifts will cover a minimum of six hours. The hours vary from family to family and some parents like to book their maternity nurse for two nights per week, while others prefer them to come six nights a week. My role as a maternity nurse is to remain flexible and give support when required.
What sort of families do you commonly work with?
It really varies and my services are not just for first-time parents. Parents with multiple children also find my services most helpful. Where first-time parents really benefit from the postnatal education I offer, parents of multiple children benefit from having good night's sleep and being well-rested for the morning.
My services are also not exclusively used by high-income parents. I've worked with single parents and I've also worked with parents who have lots of support around them and just like the reassurance of having someone qualified to care for their baby at night, who can offer them parental education as well.
As a qualified hospital nurse, what led you to become a home-based maternity nurse?
I have a Masters degree in Public Health, which specialises in zero to five years, and my main role in nursing was to advise parents. However, I missed the hands-on side, so I decided to step into private maternity nursing and haven't looked back.
What are the best things about being a maternity nurse?
I love getting to know different parents and supporting them at a challenging, but very special time, in their lives. I love seeing parents grow and develop into their new roles, and I really enjoy the hands-on work with babies.
I never know what to expect. Families are so unique and it's a privilege to be a part of the parents' extended team.
What are some challenges you sometimes face?
Parenting is a lot of trial and error, so it can be challenging to try and advise parents who might not see the benefits of some strategies immediately, or who may struggle to do so during distressing situations (e.g. if their baby is upset and suffering from reflux). Also, it can be challenging to help parents understand that some techniques may take longer than others to show positive results.
As a maternity nurse, do you have any advice for mums-to-be?
I'd also advise you to take a relaxed approach to the birth plan and try to enjoy the first few days and weeks after your baby is born. Rest is so important and that's why maternity nurses are here – so you can be well-rested at night and enjoy your baby during the day.
Also, most importantly, don't be scared to ask for advice or help. It's natural to have concerns and questions, and a maternity nurse will be able to provide the support and answers you need.
Where can Australian families find a maternity nurse?
If you're expecting a baby, Nisha and other maternity nurses can be booked through White Glove Services Australia.
CareforKids.com.au can also put you in touch with a wide range of child carers who look after newborns, infants and older children in your local area.