A maternity nurse specializes in providing care to pregnant women, from prenatal care through labor and delivery. The specific duties of a maternity nurse depend on her level of education and experience as nurses can work in a maternity setting with a number of different degrees and licenses. Some maternity nurses have associate degrees, while others have bachelor's or master's degrees. Associate and bachelor’s programs both have a maternity care class as part of the core curriculum, while bachelor’s and master’s programs offer additional maternity courses as electives or specializations.

Degree Options

Most universities do not offer a special degree in maternity nursing at the undergraduate level. However, students may take elective courses in maternity care while pursuing the Associate in Applied Science or Bachelor of Science degrees in nursing. Furthermore, licensed professionals, like Licensed Practical Nurses and Registered Nurses, also have the option of taking maternity care electives. At the graduate level, many schools offer degrees in maternity nursing as a specialization or concentration in Master of Science in Nursing programs. Additionally, some universities offer concentrations in nurse-midwifery.

Maternity Classes in General Nursing Curriculum

Most nursing programs include at least one class in maternity nursing, whether as part of the required curriculum or as an elective course. In addition, other courses related to maternity care are available, focusing on the care of women, care of children or family nursing. Maternity nursing classes include instruction in historical and current trends in maternity care, anatomy and physiology of the reproductive system and health promotion during pregnancy. Some nursing bachelor’s programs also offer opportunities for internships in which students can get clinical experience working in maternity care.

Reproductive Health Courses

Maternity care involves more than helping women through labor and delivery. It requires nurses to work with women in maintaining reproductive health as well as with the family as a whole to create a healthy environment for infant growth and development. Courses such as Columbia University School of Nursing's The Science of Nursing Practice with Childbearing Families focuses on this broad approach to nursing care for expectant mothers. Students specializing in maternity nursing may also take classes in women’s health care during reproductive years that include topics like family planning and postpartum care. These courses give students a broader knowledge of the health issues surrounding pregnancy and childbirth.

Neonatal Care

Students focusing on maternity nursing also take courses in the specialized issues of neonatal physiology and health assessment. These courses help the nurse understand, diagnose and inform the patient about the development of the child as well as the risk factors encountered during pregnancy. Courses like Columbia's Maternal-Fetal-Newborn Physiology examine the development and interactions of biological systems during pregnancy. Others give students practical experience in assessment and diagnosis with an emphasis on evidence-based practice and understanding the physiological rationale of treatment protocols.

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