Pregnancy and NICU

Being pregnant while working on a neonatal unit is challenging at the best of times.

I’ve been asked by parents on the unit on several occasions whether working with babies all day makes us broody. For me, being a NICU nurse usually makes me the exact opposite of broody, whatever that might turn out to be…

Every day you’re faced with the stark reminders of what can go wrong and that, for a large number of babies there have been no risk factors identified; nothing that they could done that would have changed the outcome for their baby. Some women have a premature baby before or after having had a healthy baby and some women have premature babies again and again.

When I went into early labour at 26 weeks the tem on the Early Pregnancy Unit couldn’t find any reason as to why labour had started. There was also no explanation as to why it then stopped and Squidge didn’t arrive until 37 weeks.

In some cases there are clearly things which have happened to the mother that are likely to have affected the baby.

Infection of any kind

Existing illness, such as diabetes

Physical or extreme emotional trauma

In rare cases we can identify things that the mother has or hasn’t done which have the potential to cause harm to the baby.

Smoking and drinking during pregnancy.

Being very overweight

Taking illicit substances or prescribed medication during pregnancy.

Not engaging with antenatal maternity services

But hundreds of sick or premature babies are born every year and in most causes we never have a definitive answer or even a vague idea as to why they weren’t born pink and healthy at full term. Even if we do have some idea it’s very difficult to prove the cause and effect relationship between a potential cause and the outcome for the baby.

When you don’t really want to tell people you’re pregnant or for them to find out working on NICU is rather like trying to navigate through a mine field. There are just so many things that can catch you out.

Exposure to x-rays can cause harm to the unborn baby.

Certain types of bacteria and infections can cause harm to the unborn baby and potentially induce premature labour.

Exposure to nitric oxide gas can cause a miscarriage

It’s usually x-rays that catch people out as we tend to need at least one per room per day. Everyone has to stand a certain distance away from the baby when the x-ray is being taken (unless they’re wearing a lead apron) but if someone runs out of the room and hides in the corridor as soon as they see the radiographer it’s usually a pretty good bet that they’re expecting.

Caring for a baby who has/needs one (or all) of the above means you end up having to tell people that you’re pregnant. It’s also recommended you avoid the above if you’re trying to conceive so if it looks you’re attempting to avoid certain things people automatically jump to the conclusion that you’re already pregnant.

Mostly this starts rumors but if they’re brave enough (or nosy enough) some people will ask you outright.

In my previous job a colleague decided that rather than asking me if I was pregnant (no idea why they thought that) they would allocate me to care for a baby who had an infection that can cause damage to an unborn baby if you’re exposed to it whilst pregnant or trying to conceive. Due to the whole not-being-pregnant thing I had going I was more than happy to care for this baby, which then led to some very confused looks and rather disappointed questioning.

“You’re happy to look after this baby then?”


“You know that they’ve got an infection?”

“I do”

“You know that you can’t look after babies with this infection if you’re pregnant?”

“Yep, I know that as well”

“So you’re not pregnant?”


“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m bloody sure!!”

In my previous job I worked with a girl who managed to keep her pregnancy a secret until 25 weeks, due to a combination of being able to wear baggy scrubs, taking several weeks holiday and people assuming that she wouldn’t be having a third baby.

No one else I’ve worked with has even come close to that.

I also worked out with a girl who was caught out before she’d even had a chance to take a pregnancy test. She thought she probably was pregnant and it did turn out that she was but she had to tell everyone on that shift before she was completely sure herself.

That was really quite unfortunate.

I got caught out at seven weeks, on my first day back at work after two weeks holiday. I’d found out I was pregnant just before my holiday started so if I hadn’t had those two weeks off I would have been five weeks pregnant when colleagues started to find out.

I was hoping that I’d get though at least part of the shift before I was asked to help with an x-ray or start inhaled nitric for a baby but it was not to be.

I didn’t even make it through handover.

I would have managed to keep Squidge under wraps for a few hours at least but the day I went back to work was also the day that morning sickness reared it’s ugly head and kicked in with avengance. I started off feeling really dizzy but managed to keep it together until I realised that I was absolutely, positively going to start throwing up so I ran out of the handover room.

Even suggesting that you might feel the slightest bit queasy is enough to start the rumor mill turning so me suddenly going green, clapping my hands over my mouth and making a bee-line for the bathroom had it going into overdrive. When I emerged about ten minutes later, having been sick loudly and repeatedly from the bathroom next door I was greeted with knowing smiles and queries of “Have you got something to tell us?”

This was part of the reason that I didn’t manage to go back to work until five months after Squidge was born.

I was struggling to adjust to being pregnant up until the minute Squidge arrived and I didn’t have the answers to my own questions, never mind anyone else’s. The thought of having to pretend to be happy and excited about being pregnant made me feel sick and dizzy…at least more sick and dizzy than I felt most of the time.

Management were extremely supportive, told me to take all the time off that I needed and that they would welcome me back when I felt well enough. When any of my colleagues asked why I’d been off for so long they were told that I was pregnant but that things weren’t going smoothly. This meant that when I eventually did go back to work I wasn’t bombarded with questions and that most people had assumed I had had extreme morning sickness or something similar.

Parents still ask me if working on NICU makes me want to have another baby and colleagues have started asking if/when (usually when) we’ll have another baby.

I say “Oh, we want to wait until Squidge is a bit older/potty trained/spending longer at nursery/in school.

“Or maybe when hell freezes over…”

MaternityMondays_zps8b777e9aMaternity MattersPicture10

4 thoughts on “Pregnancy and NICU

  1. Caroline (Becoming a SAHM) says:

    Gosh it must be so difficult to see poorly or premature babies every day and even harder with pregnancy hormones flying around. I had never thought about the practical challenges you have to face and it must be so hard to keep it a secret, when with all your knowledge of what can go wrong, you probably want it keep it a secret more than many people do! Wow, really interesting post, thank you for linking up to #MaternityMondays xx


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