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Responsibilities of nurses working with babies

Many nurses enter the field with a goal of working with babies. Some have a preference to work in the maternity unit (labor and delivery), in pediatrics or to specifically work as a neonatal nurse.

Working in the maternity unit requires nurses to work with both the mothers and the infants, usually providing care leading up to, during and post-labor. Maternity nurses monitor the vitals of both the patient and the infant, assist the doctor during labor and help teach mothers how to feed, change and bathe the newborn.

Working in pediatrics includes working with infants, children and adolescents.

Specific responsibilities depend on the location, as pediatric nurses can be found in hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics or even surgery centers. Similarly, becoming a neonatal nurse is a subspecialty of nursing, requiring work with newborns who may have a wide variety of medical issues. There are different levels of care needed, depending on the severity of the issue, but these nurses are usually working with the infants for up to the first month of their life.

Regardless of which of the three-abovementioned areas you end up working in as a nurse, if you are caring for babies in some capacity, there are significant responsibilities to be aware of:

Professional Responsibilities

Below is an overview of the professional responsibilities you would have in each role:

Labor and delivery nurse job duties:

  • Provide emotional and medical support for the mother during labor
  • Monitor the vitals of both the fetus and the mother
  • Track the strength and timing of contractions
  • Administer any necessary medications and/or tests
  • Assist the doctor during labor
  • Support the mother during delivery
  • Assist the doctor if any complications arise
  • Monitor the infant post-delivery
  • Educate the mother on how to properly feed, bathe and care for the new infant

Pediatric nurse job duties:

  • Be knowledgeable about the developmental stages of a baby
  • Test the appropriate stage/interactions of the baby
  • Help treat a wide range of acute and chronic medical issues
  • Help provide care during a wide variety of surgical conditions
  • Take appropriate vitals
  • Provide education and instruction to families
  • Specialize in disease management, prevention and assessment

Neonatal nurse job duties:

  • As a neonatal nurse, job duties become even more serious, as you will be working in life-sustaining care for the new baby up until a month old
  • Administer appropriate medications
  • Monitor vital signs
  • Provide life-sustaining nutrients to the baby
  • Monitor the infant’s breathing
  • Monitor appropriate lung development
  • Assist in treatment plans and examinations
  • Maintain and update records of patient’s care
  • Educate parents on necessary at-home procedures


Legal and Ethical Responsibilities

As a nurse working with babies, there are also significant legal and ethical responsibilities to consider. You are going to be working in an incredibly complex organization. Every day, both legal and ethical issues are embedded into your nursing practice. This includes your direct work with patients, families and physicians, but it also includes your role and rights as a nurse.

It is important to be an advocate for yourself and your patients to make sure there is appropriate access to valuable resources that will lessen or alleviate distress. You are going to serve as a guide to help families and their babies along the journey of particular illnesses and medical issues. Helping people is what brings nurses career satisfaction and fulfillment; however, this is also when ethical challenges can arise.

For example, you will need to ask patients whether they understand the differences between research and treatment procedures. You will at some point be talking over the benefits and drawbacks of certain medications. You will have the doctor beside you to provide his recommendation; however, ultimately you will need to support the family in their decision. Other situations may require you to have to calm an aggressive, angry or verbally abusive patient who is drowned in grief.

There are going to be so many difficult decisions and situations you will be faced with. It is incredibly important to be well versed in the policies and procedures set in place in whichever setting you are working in and to also remain true to the ethics of nursing. “How patient- centered care is defined, organized, and delivered; how the rights and interests of patients and family decision makers are upheld; and how evidence concerning safe and effective—or harmful and ineffective—care in-forms practice and policy are but a few of the areas of nursing practice that are shaped by a range of policy decisions and by the interpretation of policy” (Ulrich, 1).

Take a look at the full list of the American Nurses Association code of ethics here.


Emotional Responsibilities

Last but definitely not least, there are emotional responsibilities to consider. This is in regards to both the babies and families you are working with and also yourself. As a nurse, you are going to serve as a mediator between patients and families, physicians and patients, and other significant parties. This is a delicate balance that you will learn to become responsible for and maintain while emotions are running high.

As a nurse working with babies, the balance becomes even more sensitive in nature. As a maternity nurse, you will walk the fine line of teaching mothers how to care for their infants and also acknowledging the mother’s intuition and medical needs as well. As a pediatric nurse, you may feel strongly about providing care in a particular way, but will have to abide by the doctor’s decisions. As a neonatal nurse, you are going to be working in an incredibly sensitive environment and will be taking care of severely sick babies, which is already incredibly difficult in and of itself. However, you will also have to consider the potential emotional grief of the families.

The incredibly unfortunate reality is that not all babies will survive the terrible medical issues they have faced. You may bear witness to families losing their infant after three weeks in the NICU. You may bear witness to a first-time mother losing her baby due to complications in the delivery. Not only may you see these unfortunate circumstances, you may feel emotionally connected to the families enduring the pain firsthand. There may be images and situations that stick with you. While it is part of your practice to offer some level of support to families, it is also incredibly important to practice self-care.

As a nurse, self-care encompasses mental, emotional and physical. There can be a great deal of stressors that come along with this also rewarding career. The best way to start self-care is to be aware of your own personal stressors and how they affect you. Being aware is the first step in knowing how to handle situations and taking care of yourself accordingly. Reach out to your supervisor, tap in to the support of your co-workers, have a family fun day of your own.

Also know that there is of course good with the bad. There will also be plenty of happy moments – a mother having her first child, surrounded by family and love. Working with an infant and after two weeks being able to send him home to his parents, healthy as can be. After days of practice, finally seeing a mother and baby connect and successfully breastfeed. Let these be the moments that stick with you.


Northwestern College will prepare you.

Northwestern College’s nursing degree is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is approved by The Illinois Department of Professional Regulation Division of Professional Regulation Illinois State Board of Nursing.

Graduating with the Associate in Applied Science degree in Nursing from Northwestern College will help prepare you to work in any setting, whether you choose a hospital, clinic or private practice. If you are a nurse who wants to work with babies in a position described above, you’ll be excited to take courses such as “Pediatric Nursing” and “Maternity/Women’s Health Nursing.” In these courses, you will learn the relevant, hands-on techniques to care for infants. You’ll also learn how to work successfully and professionally with the entire family unit. Read up more on specific course descriptions here!

Once you graduate from Northwestern College’s program, you will feel prepared for the challenges and celebrations ahead of you. You will know policy, theory and leadership skills. However, you will also gain confidence. In gaining confidence, you will be able to trust yourself and your decisions. You might be able to catch signs of post-partum depression in a new mother or express without doubt your opinion on how to best educate parents on at-home care for their new baby. Either way, know that your hard work now in Northwestern College’s nursing program is going to set you up for success to help change the lives of countless babies and patients in the future.