Obstetric nursing vs neonatal nursing: similarities and differences

July 11, 2016

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Obstetric nursing and neonatal nursing both involve the care of a mother and her newborn baby. However, there are very distinct variations between the two specialties regarding practice, responsibility, education and work setting.

Obstetric nurses include registered nurses who help the obstetrician in the delivery room as well as certified nurse midwives who are qualified manage pregnancy and birth autonomously.

A neonatal nurse’s responsibilities commence after the delivery. These advanced nurse specialists are qualified to extend care to healthy newborns as well as extremely sick premature infants.

Although there is a degree of overlap between the duties of an obstetric nurse and a neonatal nurse, there is a fundamental difference between the two specialties. In obstetric nursing, most of the focus is on the mother. In neonatal nursing, the focus is on the newborn.

Salient features of obstetric nursing

The primary focus of obstetric nursing is the health of the expectant mother and her infant, from pre-conception to immediately after the birth. During this time, obstetric nurses provide a broad range of services ranging from routine care or emergency care during pregnancy, to fertility and family counselling.

At regular pregnancy checkups, obstetric nurses conduct a thorough evaluation to determine whether there are any special risks involved in the pregnancy. If any problems are suspected, foetal monitoring services are provided as needed.

Obstetric nurses also support the obstetrician during the actual delivery. They are familiar with the various stages of labour and help physicians recognise the symptoms of delivery-related complications.

After the delivery, they educate the new mother on the care and feeding of their infants and advise them of the various adjustments they need to make after they take their baby home.

Salient features of neonatal nursing

Neonatal nursing focuses on the care of newborns, from the moment of birth through the first month of life. Nurses who work in this specialty care for healthy as well as sick newborns.

After some experience, neonatal nurses can undergo further training in the neonatal intensive care unit or NICU nursing where the focus is on caring for premature babies, babies born with birth defects or those who develop problems that require intensive care such as surgery.

NICU nurses typically care for newborns in neonatal intensive care units or newborn nurseries. Depending on the circumstances, NICU nursing may also begin right in the delivery room itself or at the mother’s bedside.

In some cases, the babies are so sick they remain in the NICU for several months after birth. This field can be very challenging as a newborn’s health is extremely fragile and having to continually administer medications and IV injections into such a tiny person can be emotionally draining. Not knowing the outcome makes it even more stressful. Working in this specialty can also be technologically sophisticated as NICU nurses often use advanced, high-tech machines to keep critically ill babies alive.

If you have what it takes to work in this specialty, you will find that despite all the challenges, nothing can beat the satisfaction of saving a newborn’s life. See whether you’re cut out for the role by observing real nurses at work in our midwifery and nursing shadowing placements overseas.



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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives, and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.