Are you a nurse with baby fever?
One day you wake up out of the blue (or maybe it’s been a while now), and BOOM! You’re ready for a baby.
Maybe it’s something in the water. For example, one midwest hospital had 36 nurses in the same unit give birth around the same time!
While that may be your manager’s worst nightmare (seriously, how DID they staff that unit?), all you hear are the helpless cries of your heartstrings. Or maybe you’re the planning type, and you’ve had this scheduled for 15.3 years. Either way, you’re ready to have a baby! But, as a nurse, is it really as simple as it sounds?
Nursing isn’t for the faint of heart. You likely work long days, often on your feet. Many environments may be at least a little unsafe for growing a human from radiology suites to emergency departments.
Plus, the underground rumor mill is pretty efficient, and your manager may be less than pleased to learn they will be without another nurse for 6-12 weeks. So here are some facts about maternity leave in the hospital and how you can decide on your own terms when word gets out.
The US is a little behind the rest of the modern world when it comes to maternity leave. You can take up to 12 weeks of job-protected UNPAID leave. This means that your job can’t fire you during that leave time or take your job away (they CAN give you an equivalent job instead). You are also protected from discrimination due to pregnancy in hiring or firing decisions.
However, that isn’t a free pass; you can still get fired for screwing up or not showing up, which is why it is sometimes better to speak up early if you can’t seem to keep your saltines down. These rules can vary by state, by the number of people working there, and how long you have been employed by the facility.
Your hospital may have paid leave options or may allow you to take your PTO. Make sure you don’t blow it all on a babymoon and then have to go back to work sooner than you are ready. If your hospital doesn’t have coverage, this blog has some great tips for making it through an unpaid leave.
It’s worthwhile to check your short-term disability coverage since pregnancy often falls in this category. (Word to the wise, you can purchase short-term coverage before you get pregnant, but it often won’t be approved afterward since it’s a pre-existing condition).
Do I have to tell them at all?
Well, yes. You have to give 30 days of notice for FMLA leave, plus it’s pretty hard to hide a 3rd-trimester pregnancy from anyone, let alone a bunch of nurses. Your colleagues will likely sniff you out even earlier if you work in labor and delivery or the ER, well before you are “showing” to the rest of the world. I’ve seen nurses peg a pregnancy in another nurse before she even knew she was pregnant.
Still, the timing is your choice. Unless you start having medical complications that prevent you from coming to work (or staying out of the bathroom while you are there), you can wait 8 months before saying anything. Keep in mind that the rumor mill has a mind of its own. If you plan to tell even one person, you should assume that everyone on your unit knows. If you are posting ultrasound pics on social media, it’s only a matter of time before someone snoops it out.
The only wrong move here is to tell everyone on the unit but your manager. Even if they aren’t your biggest cheerleader, it’s disrespectful to wait, especially if everyone else knows already. The truth is there may be other pregnancies or medical issues on your unit that you are unaware of. Your manager needs a heads-up to start making contingency plans.
He or she will probably be thrilled for you, but if they aren’t, don’t take it personally. It’s hard enough to staff a unit when everyone can show up for work. Pregnancies are unpredictable, so they may just be running through the worse case scenarios in their mind or assuming you won’t come back at all. (A reasonable fear since only 27% of women return to work full time in the 3 years after having their babies.)
You are not obligated to say anything but should say something as soon as you feel comfortable. For many people, that’s after the first trimester when the risk of miscarriage decreases; for some, it’s when they start showing. Others will wait as long as possible, and that’s okay too.
The best reason to fess up though may just be the social support. Nursing units are often mainly women, many of whom will be happy to commiserate with you on your newfound heartburn or frequent urination. Speaking up early on may help you avoid dangerous situations and keep you in the game longer. You are going to want to spend your 12 weeks with your baby instead of your cankles on bedrest.
When you need to speak up.
There are a few circumstances it’s probably better to say something early.
- You give dangerous medications, including many chemotherapy drugs
- You work in behavioral health or the ER, where violent patients are common
- You have extreme morning sickness or debilitating fatigue
- You are in a specialty role, especially if you are the only one doing your job
- You are at high risk for complications or developing complications during your pregnancy
- You are exposed to radiation, extreme temperatures, air pressure changes, or other environmental concerns
Your nursing peeps are some of the best lookouts for your well-being, so you can expect them to remind you to prop your feet up or offer to help your patient back to bed. Chances are, you aren’t the only pregnant lady on the unit, so you may make some new friends (hello, playdates!).
More importantly, many nursing units are a tight-knit tribe and will help one another when the going gets tough. Rather it’s your new next-level bloodhound smelling abilities or your inability to see your feet, you are going to need a little love 12 hours into your shift or elbow-deep in a code brown. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it can take a whole unit to get a nurse through a pregnancy.
Plan ahead and enjoy the ride, no matter how long you let the suspense build! Ensure you know your legal rights, and don’t be afraid to speak up early to your colleagues and your boss. Nurse mamas can do anything!