Nurses’ experiences of working while pregnant: A qualitative descriptive study

Jessica G. Rainbow, Hanne R. Dolan, Leslie Farland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Healthcare work environments are fraught with occupational hazards that can impact nurse health as well as patient care. However, little is known about how these hazards impact nurse health during pregnancy, and the experiences of nurses in the work environment during pregnancy and upon their return postpartum. Objective: To describe registered nurses’ (RNs’) experiences of working while pregnant and returning to work postpartum. Specifically, their experiences related to the work environment and work-related hazards. Design: A qualitative descriptive design was utilized to describe nurse experiences at work, occupational hazards during pregnancy, and experiences of returning to work after pregnancy. Participants and Setting: A convenience sample of twenty nurses working in direct patient care roles across the United States were recruited for virtual semi-structured interviews. Method: Participants were interviewed using a semi-structured question guide to explore nurse experiences, specifically occupational hazards at work during pregnancy and upon returning to work. Interview transcripts were analyzed using deductive and inductive content analysis. Results: Deductive findings for occupational hazards and risks during pregnancy and postpartum included exposure to infectious diseases, imaging, physical tasks (e.g., lifting and performing CPR), cleaning products, patient violence, and medication administration. Inductive thematic findings included: support needed avoid occupational hazards and make necessary modifications; desire to be ‘supernurses’ and put the patient first even when it meant taking risks for our health and that of their child; and fear of the consequences of occupational hazards and exposures. Conclusions: Occupational hazards experienced by nurses during pregnancy that may impact their health and that of their baby were broader than previously studied. Pregnant nurses should receive education from their healthcare providers early in their pregnancies about the occupational hazards themselves and the potential modifications they should seek. Managers, occupational health and other health system leaders, and policymakers should be aware of occupational hazards for nurses, including pregnant nurses, and support workplace modifications. Future research should focus on assessing the prevalence of these hazards, the longitudinal impact of exposures that can lead to negative consequences for nurse and fetal health, and reducing the risk of exposure to these hazards for pregnant nurses. Tweetable abstract: RNs described a variety of occupational hazards of working while pregnant and postpartum. Inconsistent ability to modify work to protect self and baby leads to completing work demands known to be hazardous.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104092
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Nurses
  • Occupational health and safety
  • Pregnancy
  • Qualitative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)


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