5 Myths About Working on a Graduate Degree

By Janet Tucker, PhD, RNC-OB

Have you often thought when you find out a co-worker is working on a graduate degree, “That’s not for me — I don’t have the time or the money and besides I enjoy what I am doing now”? I did not seek a graduate degree until my children were in high school and after beginning; I wish I had started on that journey earlier! Let’s address some of the myths.

  • I do not have time in my life right now.
    I delayed a pursuing graduate degree because I thought I would be on campus as much as undergraduate classes require. Many graduate nursing programs offer online and on campus options or a combination. I often advise nurses, just stick your toe in the water and try one class. You can fit the assignments in your life no matter what shift you are currently working. Just trying one class a semester is “doable”
  • I am not sure I can afford the tuition
    There are many options-private and public colleges. There are scholarships and some employers offer tuition reimbursement. It is an employee benefit-check it out!
  • I have not been in school in years. I am not sure I am smart enough for graduate school.
    I hear this one a lot. You are smart-you are a RN and passed boards! Hands down for most nurses, our first program is the most difficult whether it was a BSN, diploma or AD program. You will be pleasantly surprised that a graduate degree builds on your existing knowledge and you will be encouraged to focus on your specialty area for assignments. You will often be able to combine an assignment with a project you wanted to do at work anyway. Plus for all of us “seasoned” nurses, when we have to use an example from practice, we have years of case studies and examples to use in assignments.
  • I really enjoy being at the bedside, I don’t want to do anything different right now
    Great! We need advanced degree nurses using their expertise and practicing evidence based practice in every setting. A graduate degree will open doors that you may not even think about right now. There may be an amazing opportunity that will come your way that requires an advanced degree.
  • I am not sure I can keep up with the technology now-discussion boards and on line classes.
    I was not confident either, however if you have middle or high school age children or neighbors, they will enjoy helping you. You will quickly adjust just as you have to EMRs.

I share all these myths because this is what I heard as I was working on my MSN and then a PhD. I began my MSN part time at the age of 50 when I was working about 24 hours a week and had all three children still at home. I did not intend to pursue a doctorate degree, however I became fascinated at the opportunity to influence care through research.

I started on my PhD one year after completing my MSN. I worked full-time during my PhD journey and I completed it within 4 ½ years. To add to the craziness, all three of my children got married during this time. It has now been a year since I graduated and I am an assistant professor at a university. I am able to continue to work occasionally in a clinical setting, conduct research, and teach the next generation of maternal child nurses.  I never would have dreamed that this would be my journey when I began taking that first graduate course. Therefore, if you are considering giving it a try, jump in, the water really is great. There are many others ready to encourage you along the way.


Janet Tucker is an assistant professor at the University of Memphis Loewenberg College of Nursing, where she is currently teaching maternal child nursing. She completed her MSN in 2010 and PhD in 2017. Her research interests are expectant women experiencing a fetal anomaly diagnosis.

 


AWHONN Resources

With generous support from individual and corporate donors, AWHONN’s Every Woman, Every Baby charitable giving program provides the opportunities to AWHONN members to apply for research grants and project grants who work in continue to improve the health of mothers, babies and their families. Additionally, AWHONN’s commitment to support emerging leaders also provides opportunities to apply to academic scholarships and enhance their professional development through attending AWHONN’s Annual Convention and information of education resources. , For more information on AWHONN scholarships and professional development opportunities visit http://www.awhonn.org/page/awards

 

Safe Sleep Advice from Real Moms

By Courtney Duggan

When I became pregnant with my first child, I did everything I could to prepare—from research on cribs, bottles, breastfeeding, you name it. Having suffered miscarriages in the past, I was very concerned and anxious about SIDS. I made sure that my daughter’s crib had nothing but the mattress and sheet. I even contemplated buying one of those boards that detects movement and alerts you when a baby stops moving.

Once my daughter was born, she slept in the bassinet in our bedroom. I was still recovering from my cesarean, so my husband was there to help put her in and take her out of her bassinet when it was time to nurse. I was very good about following the safe sleep guidelines, but we would sometimes take naps together while I nursed on my side. I knew in the back of my mind it wasn’t the best option, but we were both able to get rest.

Fast forward 2 years, and my son is born. Again, I was cautious as I prepared for a new baby: I purchased a firm mattress and was sure not to have any toys, bumpers, or blankets in his crib. I told myself I was going to be much better with following safe sleep guidelines than I was with my daughter.

He, too, was born via cesarean, and in the beginning I was very good about not allowing him in bed and always putting him back in his bassinet. When he was about 3 months old, it became harder and harder to follow the guidelines. My son wasn’t sleeping at night, he refused any kind of pacifier (I tried six different brands), and the only thing that soothed him was nursing.

Baby Maxwell in his sleepsuit

Around this time, I returned to my full-time job. I found it easier to nurse him while lying down and returning to sleep. He also seemed to sleep better when he was next to me. I knew it wasn’t right, but I just wanted him to sleep—and I wanted to sleep myself. I tried swaddling, sleep suits, white noise… everything. It’s not supposed to be this hard the second time around, I thought. I’d already been through this; they say the second kid is easier!

When he was about 8 months old, I woke up to a boom and a baby screaming: He had fallen out of the bed, and I felt like the world’s worst mother. Luckily he was ok, but it could have been worse. He could have really gotten injured, or worse, I could have lost him. I knew the rules, I knew that babies were supposed to sleep in their own space, but I ignored them because I wanted my baby to sleep during the night and I was exhausted.

After my son’s fall, I knew something had to change; my son could no longer sleep in my bed at night. I decided to move his crib from our room into another room, and I gave the pacifier another shot. While sleep training hasn’t been successful, he is now taking a pacifier. Instead of bringing him into my bed when he wakes up at night, I offer him his pacifier if it’s before 3 a.m. If he wakes up again, I stay in his room to nurse him and then place him back in his crib. In addition, I had to make the decision to go to sleep earlier to ensure that I got my rest, too.

This got me thinking: What are some ways to help moms follow safe sleep practices after the baby is home? I enlisted the help of nurse Sharon Hitchcock, DNP, RN-C and some fellow moms.

Sharon is an obstetrics nurse and teaches at the University of Arizona. She is quite passionate about the topic of SIDS and safe infant sleep as she now knows why most of these deaths occur and, more importantly, how to prevent them (at least most of them).

She routinely talks about the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) safe sleep recommendations to students as well as parents and nurses. She’s also gotten a recent taste of some of the struggles, as she’s the happy grandma of a 9-month-old!

Naomi is mom of 9-month-old Samuel and became a safe sleep advocate long before having her baby. Heidi is almost finished with nursing school and has two kids, 3-month-old Eli and 4-year-old Sophia. Melanie, a mom of three, teaches obstetrics at the University of Arizona and is a childbirth educator at the local hospitals.

I shared with them my struggles of following safe sleep practices with my son and asked several questions about how parents can better follow safe sleep guidelines. Here’s what they had to say:

  1. Night feedings can be exhausting, especially when breastfeeding. What are some best practices to help resist the urge to nurse while lying down?  

NAOMI: I resisted the urge to nurse while lying down simply because I didn’t want to bring the baby into bed with me. There were some times when I nursed while sitting up in bed, but I also nursed in a rocking chair in my son’s room, just next to his crib, so I could immediately put him back to bed when he finished eating. I’m a light sleeper and didn’t worry much about falling asleep while feeding him, but I’ve heard it’s a good idea to use a timer, like the one on your phone, if you’re worried about falling asleep.

HEIDI: I was aware of the risks of breastfeeding while lying down from my OB classes in nursing school and had heard the horror stories of parents falling asleep with their infants and accidently suffocating them during their sleep. This was enough to make me take precautions the majority of the time that I was breastfeeding at night. I would feed him in my bed, sitting up, with him in the cross cradle position. I would set alarms just in case I did fall asleep with him, as studies have shown that the longer you are asleep with your infant, the greater the risk of SIDS. If mothers are truly so exhausted that they feel like they need to lie down while nursing, they should remove all pillows and blankets from around the baby and set alarms that will wake them should they fall asleep

  1. What are some ways to keep baby warm at night without using blankets?

NAOMI: Our son was born at the end of November, just when it really started to cool down here in southern Arizona. We kept the room warm and comfortable, and he wore footed pajamas.

HEIDI: For both of my children, I used sleep sacks that are available to buy online or in any baby store. They have worked well for me both times. I made sure the house was kept warm enough that they would be comfortable throughout the night.

MELANIE: It is recommended to keep the bedroom at a temperature that is comfortable for a lightly clothed adult. Overheating a baby is very dangerous, as they cannot just push the covers off.

  1. The risk of SIDS goes down once a baby turns 6 months—is it okay to bed-share then?

HEIDI: No. The baby can still roll over and suffocate on the softer mattress, pillows, and thick blankets that we have. In addition to the suffocation risks, I believe that getting the baby into a routine of sleeping in their parents’ bed will be one that is hard to break. Neither of my children have been able to sleep in my bed with me, mostly due to my concern for their safety. I am a hard sleeper and would not wake up if I rolled onto them. I also always wanted them to be able to sleep in their own rooms, once old enough.

MELANIE: It is true that most SIDS deaths occur before 6 months, but the infant is still at risk for SIDS until 12 months of age, and adult beds are not designed for infants. Most babies are rolling over by 6 months, and adult beds are usually too soft and have too many blankets and pillows. The other risks include the parents rolling onto the infant or the infant falling out of the bed.

  1. My baby has reflux and spits up during the night. Can I place a wedge or pillow in his crib?

HEIDI: No. This is another thing that infants could suffocate on if they rolled over. My son spits up a lot, too, but thankfully I knew from my OB class that it was safer for him to be on his back when he sleeps than on his stomach or wedged if he spits up. A baby is less likely to choke when on their back if they spit up because their airway sits above their esophagus (the tube going to their stomach), making it easier for the fluid to stay away from the airway and easier to swallow.

MELANIE: The AAP recommends that infants are always placed on their backs and not on their sides. Infants are quite good at protecting their airways while on their backs (unless they have a swallowing impairment, which your doctor would tell you). The U.S. FDA has stated that infant sleep positioners are not recommended as there have been several cases of infant deaths from the use of side positioners after the baby rolled to the stomach position or when their face got wedged into the positioner. Keeping the infant upright on a parent’s shoulder for 20–30 minutes after a feeding can decrease reflux.

SHARON: Some parents may think it’s a good idea to elevate the head of the crib to help with the reflux. However, multiple studies have shown this does not help and actually puts the baby at risk for sliding down to the foot of the bed and getting into an unsafe sleeping position.

  1. If I nurse while lying down, should I remove everything from my bed in case we fall asleep?  

NAOMI: This is what the newest recommendations advise you to do. Make sure all the blankets, pillows, etc., are moved out of the way, so that in the event you fall asleep, the bed will be a little bit safer.

HEIDI: Absolutely. This is the safest practice if you must nurse while lying down. This is what I did. I also asked my husband to adjust his pillow, and if possible, stay awake with me to ensure that I didn’t fall asleep with the baby. We aren’t perfect, though, and there were a couple of times where we dozed off with him, but fortunately I had alarms set to wake me within 15 minutes of beginning nursing. Once I knew he was full and had a clean diaper on, I set him back down in his crib and went to sleep.

  1. Sometimes the baby falls asleep on my chest. It’s recommended that babies sleep on their backs, but since he’s on my chest is it okay?

HEIDI: I believe so, as long as you are rested enough that there is no risk of you falling asleep and you are able to monitor the baby while he is asleep on his tummy. I did this a lot with both of my children during the day and think it is the perfect opportunity for skin-to-skin time.

SHARON: Make sure you can see your baby’s face (to make sure it is not covered or does not become wedged into your breasts) and you are awake and attentive to him.

  1. The only way to get my baby to sleep is if I nurse him; when I go to transfer him into his own bed, he wakes up and cries. Is it okay to let him cry it out?

NAOMI: This is a hard topic. There are so many opinions out there, and it’s hard not to get discouraged by all the articles in my Facebook newsfeed that highlight how awful it is to let your baby “cry it out.” It became important for me to consider our circumstances and the fact that every baby is different. I didn’t use the formal “cry-it-out” method for sleep training, but there were, and still are, so many times when I have to let my son cry for a while before he’ll give in and go to sleep. He’s fed. His diaper is clean. He has burped. He’s still crying. He’s not comforted by me holding him close. I’m starting to go a little crazy, and my left ear is ringing from his screams. I know he’s exhausted. What he needs is sleep. It’s okay to place him in his crib and walk away. It’s OKAY to let him cry. I had to learn this early on. It’s made a huge difference.

MELANIE: Crying is a baby’s language and the only way they have to communicate. They cry because they are hungry, tired, uncomfortable, and sometimes just because they are fussy and need to get rid of excess energy. If they have burped and their diaper is clean, you can try to console them with rhythmic noise, music, or gently stroking their head. If the baby is tired, they will usually fall asleep quickly.

Safe sleep is harder than it appears, at least for some of the recommendations. This is an extraordinarily complex topic, and we know it’s hard. In order to keep your baby  as safe as possible, learn  the recommendations, start them at birth, do the best you can, and know that you are not alone in your struggle.

Do you have safe sleep tips/advice you want to share with parents? Share them at www.awhonn.org/SafeSleepTips

Resources


References

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2016). SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: Updated 2016 recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environment. Pediatrics, 138(5), 1–12. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2938

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Sudden unexpected infant death and sudden infant death syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/sids/data.htm

Gradisar, M., Jackson, K., Spurrier, N. J., Gibson, J., Whitman, J., Williams, A. S., . . . Kennaway, D. J. (2016). Behavioral interventions for infant sleep problems: A randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics, 137(6), 1–10. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-1486

Hitchcock, S. C. (2017). An update on safe infant sleep. Nursing for Women’s Health, 21(4), 307–311. doi:10.1016/j.nwh.2017.06.007

Moon, R. Y., & Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (2016). SIDS and other sleep-related infant deaths: Evidence base for 2016 updated recommendations for a safe infant sleep environment. Pediatrics, 138(5), e1–e29. doi.org:10.1542/peds.2016-2940

Storrs, C. (2016). It’s OK to let your baby cry himself to sleep, study finds. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/24/health/cry-it-out-sleep-training-ok/index.html


Courtney Duggan is a digital marketing manager in the Washington, D.C. area and is a mother of 2.

Life Entangled in Pink Ribbon

 *This blog was previously published at www.summahealth.org

My name is Jennifer Doyle.  As women’s health nurse practitioner and breast cancer survivor, I was asked to share excerpts from a 4-part blog that was published as part of my Health System’s ‘Flourish’ series in 2013.  Only 5 days ago, I passed the ‘5 year mark’ from diagnosis.  Thank you for allowing me to share my story, which I hope may help others who face breast cancer.

Diagnosis: “I am NOT a pink ribbon”

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on Sept. 24, 2012. I was not necessarily shocked, as all three of my father’s sisters had been diagnosed with breast cancer by the age of 50. I found a lump through a self-breast exam, and within a week had my diagnosis. I noticed the lump a few months prior, but it was very small and very hard.  I figured it was just my monthly cycle. However, when I re-checked my breast in the shower, it was much, much larger and hard as a rock. I could not move it. I could not find the edges of the mass on palpation. When I got out of the shower and looked in the mirror, I saw the orange peel affect, or dimpling of the skin around the area, and instantly knew that I had breast cancer.

When it came to the actual diagnostic process, it was quite memorable. I recall going in for the mammogram, already believing in some part of my brain that I had breast cancer. I thought to myself, “Hey, if I get my mammogram and get out of here, I’m good. If they keep me for an ultrasound, I’m screwed.” I had the mammogram, and wouldn’t you know it, I needed to stay for an ultrasound. As I sat waiting for the ultrasound, and again waiting for the ultrasound results, I watched women come and go from the breast center. They came in talking on their phones, making lunch plans; in and out. I was jealous. I wanted to just get up and go on with my life, too. Yet, I already knew that I could not.

Then came the inevitable. I was taken into a room with a tech and a physician, and informed that I needed a biopsy – today if possible. I was told that I had a mass in my right breast and that it was “very suspicious.” When the staff members left the room, I sat somewhat stunned. I looked around and realized I was surrounded by pink ribbons. There were quilts and pictures all hailing the pink ribbon. I instantly hated the color pink. Everything in me rebelled against the pink ribbon. I thought, “I want nothing to do with any of this. I am NOT a pink ribbon. I will not be defined by this!”

My formal diagnosis came via a phone call from my OB/GYN. Despite being a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, I said “I work in OB; I don’t know anything about breast cancer! What does this mean?” He informed me that it was the most common type of breast cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma, and that he was referring me to a general surgeon. My path was laid out before me, and I began my journey….

Treatment-“Wow, you look like GI Jane!”

My husband, Tim was with me for the biopsy and the diagnosis. One of the most challenging days was the day I had to tell my parents and our 13-year-old daughter, Claire, Someone wisely told me that the most difficult part of dealing with cancer is dealing with others’ reactions and emotions. It is so true. I rarely worry, but I hate being the cause for worry in the people I love. What I would say about Claire and my recovery is simple: She was ALL of my reasons.

After I broke the news to my family, my Breast Care Coordinator Heidi Eve Cahoon, MSN, CNP, of Summa’s Jean and Milton Cooper Cancer Center in Akron, met with myself, my husband, and my parents. She explained the pathology report and typical course for the breast cancer patient. We all felt more informed and educated after meeting with her. If you’re coping with the same diagnosis, it’s worth reading more about how breast cancer navigators can help you through treatment.

I opted for chemotherapy prior to any surgery. This was due in part to medical recommendations, but it appealed to me because it bought me time to assess my options for surgery and/or radiation. My four rounds of chemotherapy included “AC,”which stands for Adriamycin and Cytotoxin (sounds so lovely). The very first round of chemo came with a side of the vomits. I began vomiting within four hours of leaving treatment, and this continued for a couple of days. Thankfully Dr. R. Douglas Trochelman (my oncologist) and the nurses changed up my antiemetic medications, and I did not experience any vomiting during the last three rounds.

Chemotherapy is quite interesting. The ‘chemical menopause’ ceased periods and brought on hot flashes. The nausea, the vomiting, mouth sores, and the utter exhaustion were novel and unwanted companions. Hair loss seemed to be the most focused-on side effect by nearly everyone. I followed the advice given to me: Buy a wig. Buy two wigs. Be prepared. I spent $400 on wigs. When the time came and the hair began to fall, my husband and I went into the bathroom. Clippers in hand, my remaining blonde locks fell all around. A tear or two did escape. But then my husband looked at me with wide eyes and said, “Wow, you look like GI Jane!” I regarded myself in the mirror for some time and decided I didn’t mind the bald chick look. I briefly tried wigs but found them intolerable. I decided to rock the new look and traded up the wigs for bandanas, ball caps, and very often, nothing at all!

I underwent a double mastectomy at Summa Health Akron in early February 2013. I chose to have this, despite being a “good candidate” for a lumpectomy. I did not have either of the BRCA genes. However, I wonder how many genes are there out there that we do not know about yet? Part of my reasoning was a desire to avoid radiation. The other was family history. My general surgeon performed the double mastectomy and my plastic surgeon placed tissue expanders. I took the Scarlett O’Hara approach to the double mastectomy. I did not think about it. I thought, “I will think about it when it is over.” I woke up after surgery and a funny thing happened. I actually was OK. I did not mourn my breasts. The pain was tolerable. I thought I was over halfway through my journey, when the road took an unexpected turn. My lymph nodes removed during surgery tested positive for cancer.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I heard a game show announcer: “Jennifer Doyle, guess what YOU’VE won?! Four more rounds of chemotherapy!” I endured four more rounds of chemotherapy with the drug Taxol. No nausea, vomiting, or mouth sores, but the exhaustion persisted, and I experienced exquisite bone pain.

Breast reconstruction following mastectomy is quite novel and interesting. There are many options, from flaps to implants to prosthetics. Would you like a nipple created? Did you keep your own? Or would you like a nipple tattooed on? I chose to go with implants. What I would choose for nipples; Stars? Flowers? This was one of amusing things I thought about while going through the process.

It wasn’t easy as it seemed. In order to get implants, one must first endure the tissue expanders. The tissue expanders are like balloons made of tire tread. They are placed during mastectomy. A series of injections expands the balloon. The skin expands and stretches, giving the plastic surgeon a pocket, or space to place the implant, and adequate skin to cover the new implant. I began going to my plastic surgeon’s office for weekly expansion. I referred to them as my “pump me up” sessions.

The first time the nurse came in with the two large 60 cc syringes and extra-long needles, my husband swore and exclaimed, “Are you going to hit her heart with that?!” This was the expansion process. For me, it was one of the most painful processes of breast cancer. My husband went with me to nearly every expansion. When he could not go, my parents went. I always had Tim or my mom there to hold my hand during the expansion. I know it sounds wimpy. But, hey, it helped!

As I waited for my final surgery, a combination of breast reconstruction and oophorectomy (ovary removal), life went on. I went back to work at Summa Health’s Women’s Health Services Department once chemo was over.

A Successful Journey: “There is a lesson in every joy and every sorrow.”

I believe three factors have made my journey a success, even though the ending yet eludes me, and the outcome is not set in stone. First, is the seemingly endless support I have received from my family and friends. The care and outpouring has been humbling and heartwarming, to say the least. I am glad it was me who has breast cancer, and not my mom or sisters, though I know they would trade places with me. You see, as a baby, I was born with multiple birth defects and spent a large part of my childhood sick, undergoing surgery, or admitted to the hospital. So for me, medical issues are nothing new. I’m not Superwoman. It’s just that I take such things in stride; that is the second factor. The third factor is faith. From the diagnosis until now, my faith has held fast. I have always believed that everything has purpose. If it were not for my childhood challenges, I probably would not have become a nurse. There is a lesson in every joy and every sorrow. It may sound hard to believe, but I have never asked God “Why?”I have also never asked God to cure me. I have simply prayed for two things:

One, that God grants me the strength to endure this with dignity and grace, no matter what, and two, “Thy will be done.”

On July 8, I underwent my final two surgeries. The surgeries included reconstruction and an oophorectomy (ovary removal). You may recall that my reconstruction choice was tissue expansion followed by silicone breast implants. Both surgeries went very well. I actually woke up feeling a bit more comfortable than I did going into surgery. The implants are much better than tissue expanders! I consider myself lucky to have had such a fabulous care team of Summa Akron City Hospital nurses and surgeons!

Survivorship

Fast forward five years.  It is hard to believe all that has happened since Sept., 2012.  Now it is Sept, 2017 and I am President-Elect of AWHONN!  Claire is now a senior in high school and will leave for college next summer.  I am grateful every day for the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way both in my personal and professional life.  For now, I have defeated cancer.  However, cancer and I have each left our mark on the other. I still experience some discomfort most every day in my right chest and axillary region.  Not exactly sure why that is, but it is most likely related to scarring and adhesions.  I still cannot lift my right hand very far above my head unless manually assisted.  Opening a can or bottle comes with significant difficulty that offers a regular reminder. I continue to experience aphasia from time to time; this peaked during chemotherapy and has not completely left.  Finally, the neuropathy in my feet remains profound.  I have very little feeling in my feet and most of the time; they just feel ‘asleep’.  That can be really annoying, to say the least.  Despite some of these physical effects, I am overall quite healthy and physically active.

Once cancer has personally impacted your life, there may always be some small measure of worry in the deep (or not so deep) recesses of your brain.  Cancer can become a lifelong resident in your mind:  What if it comes back?  Is that a lump or just scar tissue?  I cannot believe that anyone is immune to these doubts that come to call on occasion. What I think is important is to own your thoughts and where you allow those thoughts to go.  Of course I have fears, but I remind myself to center and to refocus my thoughts and efforts in another direction.  Sometimes this takes specific intention. In every story, there is meaning.  While I still have not fully come to understand the meaning of my breast cancer, perhaps it will be made clear to me one day.  Lessons learned via a renewed appreciation for life’s small moments are perhaps what I take from this part of my journey.  Every person has a unique story and must come to their own point of resolution and peace.  I thank you for allowing me this opportunity to share some of my experiences.

My life was certainly entangled in the pink ribbon for some time.  Now, that has come full circle.  Today I embrace that ribbon and am proud to wear it as a banner symbolizing survival.


Jennifer Doyle is a WHNP with nearly 25 years of experience in obstetrics. She is the APN of the Women’s Service Line at Summa Health in Akron, Ohio as well as Faculty and Coordinator of the WHNP program at Kent State University in Kent, OH. She is AWHONN’s President elect in 2017 and is happy to share her personal story from the perspective of a breast cancer patient.

Alcohol and Pregnancy – An Approach Nurses Can Use to Prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders

By: Ann M. Mitchell, Holly Hagle, and Brayden Kameg

Prenatal exposure to alcohol can lead to a range of physical, mental, behavioral, learning, and developmental disabilities, with possible lifelong effects for the child exposed in utero. This range is commonly known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder or FASD. FASDs are 100% preventable when a baby is not  exposed to alcohol during pregnancy.

Healthcare professionals may tell women that it’s OK to drink alcohol on occasion or even in moderation, when they are pregnant. However, evidence shows that there is no known safe type, safe amount, or safe time to consume alcohol while pregnant.

Additionally, it’s important for healthcare professionals to broach the subject of alcohol consumption, not only with their pregnant patients, but with all women of reproductive age. Women who are sexually active and not using effective contraception may be at an increased risk for alcohol exposed pregnancies, as nearly half of all pregnancies within the United States are unplanned.

It is critical that healthcare professionals educate all women of reproductive age about alcohol use and pregnancy. Alcohol screening and brief intervention (alcohol SBI) is one evidence-based approach to assessing patients for at-risk alcohol use. Screening includes use of a validated tool, such as the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT). The AUDIT is a clinically reliable and valid instrument (Bohn, Babor & Kranzler, 1995). The AUDIT has been consistently found to screen and detect alcohol use across a spectrum of low, moderate, and high risk consumption (Reinert & Allen, 2007).  The AUDIT has been found to be valid and reliable with diverse populations and in a variety of settings.

When a patient screens positive for at-risk use, a non-judgmental discussion, called a “brief intervention” occurs with the use of motivational interviewing techniques. For example, the patient is provided with the score on the AUDIT during the health care visit. If a patient scores between an 8 and 15, this score is discussed in relation to their current health condition and presented objectively to the patient as moderate alcohol consumption. If the AUDIT score is between 16 and 19, then brief counseling and continued monitoring are suggested. With a score of 20+ a referral for further assessment is indicated (Babor & Higgins-Biddle, 2001). The main goals of the brief intervention are to increase a patient’s awareness of their alcohol consumption patterns, understand the associated risks and options for reducing or eliminating those risks, and to increase their motivation to make healthy choices.

As nurses, it is our obligation to ensure that women are provided with the knowledge needed to make informed choices regarding their health. For example, giving the patient objective feedback about their score on the AUIDT and then asking them “What are your thoughts about this score?” is a way to elicit their thoughts and feelings about their alcohol consumption in relation to their health and wellness. Further, exploring the pros and cons of the patients current level of alcohol consumption is an excellent technique to elicit the patients thoughts and provides an opportunity for the health professional to provide feedback and health education.  Patients have high trust in confiding to their healthcare provider and in particular nurses.

Additional Resources


Dr. Ann M. Mitchell is professor of nursing and psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing. She is principal investigator on a CDC-funded project for the implementation of alcohol screening and brief intervention with the ultimate goal of preventing FASDs.

Dr. Holly Hagle is Director of Education for the Institute for Research, Education and Training in Addiction (IRETA) and a partner in the CDC-funded FASD project.

Brayden Kameg is a graduate student in the psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner DNP program at the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Nursing. She is actively participating in grant-related activities on Dr. Mitchell’s projects.

Providing Care for Survivors of Sexual Abuse During Childbirth

“Humiliating and Traumatic,” these are the words from a survivor of sexual abuse when asked to describe her labor and delivery. All too often, women who have been sexually abused carry their wounds into the delivery room. And, all too often, these unresolved traumas rear their ugly heads and cause complications, from labor dystocias, to full blown anxiety attacks that result in a woman completely shutting down. These are some of the more challenging labors to manage.

According to the U.S. Department of Health, one in four girls and one in five boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18. One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. This is in many ways a silent epidemic. Sometimes victims don’t disclose their abuse to their care providers. The reasons vary, and can range from  ongoing suffering of the traumatic effects of the abuse and  avoiding  reliving it, to a continuing sense of shame that victims  may have never come to grips with.

What are some possible signs of sexual abuse?

According to When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse on Childbearing Women, having a constellation of these symptoms can indicate a history of abuse. Having one or more of the following should trigger a red flag and considerations for a woman’s  care during childbirth:

  • Not able to feel fetal movement. Some women have “numbed” that part of the body
  • Hyperemesis gravidarum
  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Missed prenatal appointments
  • Panic with vaginal exams
  • Extreme anxiety with IV starts
  • Disassociation that manifests as if she’s going into a trance

Many of these symptoms can understandably occur in women who don’t have a history of sexual abuse, but when a woman has two or more, it’s reasonable to suspect that such a history is possible. These symptoms can stem from PTSD, which is triggered by a woman’s perception of loss-of-control, as well as the physical sensations that occur during pelvic exams, labor, and birth. By rushing through procedures, and not allowing the woman time to process (if possible), understand, and consent to what is happening to her body, we can inadvertently trigger a posttraumatic reaction.

Admittedly, the discussion of sexual abuse is a tough topic for those on either end of the conversation. We often just touch on the subject while reviewing women’s admission histories, and then move on. Fortunately, we don’t need the admission of abuse to employ strategies developed for survivors. It’s actually much more common for caregivers to pick up on non-verbal cues and then tailor their care. A real tragedy is the guilt and shame survivors can feel after giving birth. So, like we would do for any woman,  it’s best to acknowledge the struggle of labor and birth, the strength a woman demonstrated, and the effort and precious reward she  achieved.

What are interventions that nurses and other caregivers can provide?

  • Explain as much as you can in advance, for example “If we run into an emergent situation there might be unfamiliar nurses coming in to help. I know this can cause anxiety, but I want to prepare you ahead of time in case it happens.”
  • Always start with asking permission. From starting an IV to turning on the overhead lights, make sure to obtain permission before doing any procedures or making changes to the environment
  • Go slowly with everything you do–this can be helpful in relation to a woman’s  fear of losing control. Fast movements can be triggers. This is especially important when uncovering a woman or assisting her with positioning.
  • Limit vaginal exams. These are especially traumatic and should be minimized. If a woman is having difficulty in relaxing enough to complete an exam, try making an agreement about when and why you can perform one. If a woman understands that the exams are being performed only when necessary, and with her consent, her anxiety is often more controllable during exams.
  • Minimize people in her room. She might have issues with nursing students or residents, especially if they are male. Obtain her permission before any new staff come into the room, unless there’s an emergent situation.

What are things not to say?

  • Intrusive interest-prying for details or descriptions of the abuse
  • Minimizing the abuse: “Well, that’s over now.”
  • Exaggerated concern
  • Shock or disgust
  • Pity

What are good things to say?

  • “I can imagine that was very hard to share that with me. It takes a lot of courage to talk about and I respect you for doing that.”
  • “Sometimes talking about these episodes can trigger strong feelings. How are you feeling right now?”
  • And, it’s always essential to assess the woman’s current well-being “Do you feel unsafe in any aspect of your life?”

Not all survivors of sexual abuse have difficulty with pregnancy or childbirth, for some it can be empowering. For those who do struggle, recognize that we have a powerful opportunity to help them. We can communicate therapeutically to help  change the woman’s focus from feeling out-of-control.  We can employ care practices to avoid the woman feeling re-traumatizatized.  And we can set the stage to promote healing and bonding with the newborn. In many instances it’s our tacit recognition and respectful and supportive care that facilitates healing, more than any words we could utter or medicines we could administer.

Where can I learn more?

What are resources for my patients?

  • National Sexual Abuse Hotline: 1800-656-HOPE
  • RAINN: Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network, www.rainn.org

Tasha-poslaniecTasha Poslaniec has been a registered nurse for 17 years. She has been working in obstetrics for over a decade and is currently a Perinatal Quality Review Nurse and Childbirth Educator.

She also writes about nursing and childbirth and has been published in the Huffington Post and the American Journal of Nursing. Pain control in childbirth has long been a topic of study and research for her.

Navigating a Labor Experience: As A Student

By: Amy Smith, Student Nurse at MGH Institute of Health Professions, Boston

I could feel the excitement in the room as I entered. The couple was receptive to my questions and suggestions; and the woman was more than happy to involve me in her care.  I tried to build rapport even though I was nervous in my role as a nursing student. This was the first time I had assisted a woman in labor and, after her membranes were artificially ruptured, her contractions started to come about two minutes apart.  At one point, I had my hand on her back and her husband smiled at me across the room and signaled for to me to remove my hand!  It was a great moment in which the support person and I connected!  I remained quiet during her contractions and I asked her if she wanted me to breathe with her but she said she had it under control. I kept thinking back to my own labors and what I felt I wanted from support people so I asked her if she would like lower back counter pressure but she refused.  The family had not done a childbirth preparation course so I assumed that their interest or skills with working through labor was limited.  I thought that they would need my help more yet her prenatal yoga practice seemed to have given her the tools she needed to get through her labor. The tools I offered her personally were meditative.  I told her to focus on her favorite place, to discuss her needs and frustrations with us in between contractions and reassured her that I was there for her to breathe with her and regulate her breathing as needed.

Reflecting on the Nursing Care Women and Babies Deserve virtues I used during this experience, I believe they were humility and engagement. Humility in that I had to understand I did not know what was best for this family. I assumed they would want and need what I needed during childbirth or skills I learned from the comfort measures video I used to prepare for this clinical experience. The woman decided what she needed and I was there to support her. In respecting their wishes I could engage with the family. Before I left them for the day they commented, “We felt like we had our own doula”.  It was easy and a pleasure to engage with this couple and follow their commands and offer suggestions. I told them I had never wanted to stay at clinical so much as I did with them. I will always remember this family.

 

Additional Resources

AWHONN’s Nursing Care and Women Babies Deserve Poster –  AWHONN’s statement on ethical nursing practice, Nursing Care Women and Babies Deserve, is rooted in the American Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics for Nurses, and provides nurses with core elements of ethical nursing practice for our specialty and corresponding examples of the virtues of ethical practice in action.

Read a commentary about Nursing Care Women and Babies Deserve in AWHONN’s journal Nursing for Women’s Health. Consider submitting your own story of how you or your colleagues practice nursing care that women and babies deserve at https://www.awhonn.org/?NursingCare


nursepicamyAmy is an ABSN student at MGH Institute of Health Professions, Boston.  She was a stay at home mother for 12 years,  a community coordinator for a non profit kids running program and a volunteer at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston before deciding to enter the nursing field.  With extensive volunteer experience from a camp for blind & visually impaired adults and children, to co-president of an elementary school PTO, she enjoys working with diverse groups of all ages.  Amy aims to work in labor and delivery after graduation in August 2017 but is also interested in global health and epidemiology.  She has intentions to keep making a difference in the lives of those she may never meet again.

6 Tips For Postpartum Care for Mom “The Patient”

by, Kristen Wesley “The Mom”

Kristen and IslaThere is a moment after labor when you realize that not only is your sweet little baby a patient, but that you are too. At least for me, that was something that hadn’t really registered. On the day that my little baby girl Isla was born I very quickly began to understand we would both need a ton of care in the hospital and at home.

You would think from all the books I read, articles I scoured, and the numerous second hand accounts from friends I received, it would have sunk in. But it just didn’t. It literally never occurred to me that I’d be a patient too during and after labor and birth. Continue reading

Nurses’ Critical Role in Preventing Infant Sleep-Related Deaths: A Call to Action

by, Sharon C. Hitchcock

Did you know most infant sleep-related deaths are considered preventable? This is good news worth sharing! Because most babies are born in a hospital or birthing center, nurses are uniquely positioned to interact with virtually every new parent. This means nurses play a critical role in helping prevent these deaths. We know that parents trust us (we are the most trusted profession!), watch us, and listen to us. We have a responsibility to make sure we give parents safe sleep recommendations along with the evidence behind them. We have a responsibility to problem-solve with parents about accomplishing safe sleep situations, all while simultaneously respecting their right to decide what is best for their family. The bad news is too many babies are still dying. October is SIDS Awareness month and a perfect time for nurses to spread the good news and advocate for our smallest patients! Continue reading

What I Wish I’d Known About Alcohol & Pregnancy

NOFAS_Kathy_Karli_blossomsby, Kathleen Tavenner Mitchell, MHS, LCADC

“Your daughter has full-blown fetal alcohol syndrome.”

Those words hit me like a tsunami. I was drowning in waves of grief, disbelief, horror and remorse. For 15 years, I searched to understand why Karli wasn’t learning and growing stronger, like my other two children. Doctors told me ear infections had caused her minor delays, but she would “grow out of it.” Today, Karli is 42 years old; developmentally, she is about 6 years old.

I grew up in the 1960s in an upper middle-class suburban neighborhood. My charismatic father suffered with alcoholism, and my co-dependent mom worked hard to cover his tracks. At 16, I was already experimenting with alcohol and other drugs when I got pregnant, married and dropped out of school. I wanted to have a healthy baby so I gave up all of the drugs and drank apple wine on the weekends.

shutterstock_152343584Effects of Alcohol in Pregnancy
My first child, a boy, was born with a clubbed foot, which the doctor told me was a genetic disorder. I had Karli a year later, when the research describing fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) was published. A few years later, I gave birth to another daughter and still had never been told not to drink during pregnancy.

I divorced my high school sweetheart and remarried another man who liked to drink. My own issues with alcoholism and addiction spiraled out of control. I had two unplanned pregnancies while on methadone to treat my heroin addiction. No one at the clinic ever mentioned that it wasn’t OK to drink. My second son came prematurely and died the day he was born. After a full-term pregnancy with my third baby girl, I found her breathless in her crib at 10 weeks old: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). I didn’t realize how those years of addiction affected each of my children.

No Safe Amount of Alcohol
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. Most people with FASD don’t have intellectual disabilities, but do have attention deficits, behavioral issues, learning disabilities, mental health issues, and problems with memory, judgment and reason. Each person can be affected in different ways and, often, a person with an FASD has a mix of these problems. FAS is the most severe form of FASD.

Alcohol is a leading cause of fetal brain damage, birth defects and both fetal and infant death, including SIDS. While pregnant, there is no safe amount of alcohol, no safe time to drink alcohol, and no safe type of alcohol.

Clean and sober for the last 31 years, I have dedicated my life’s work to increasing awareness and improving services for individuals with FASD and for women dealing with addiction issues. I have a beautiful marriage and 5 wonderful grandchildren. I went on to receive my Master of Human Services (MHS) degree and became a licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor (LCADC). I know that treatment works, and by encouraging women to get help, we save their children too. Now I am that good mother I always wanted to be.


If you’re struggling or think your child may be affected by FASD, don’t hesitate to reach out to your nurse, midwife or other healthcare provider. There is no shame in asking for help—your child’s life depends on it.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD)

  • FASD’s effects are lifelong—but they’re also preventable
  • Alcohol in pregnancy is more harmful than any other recreational drug, including cocaine, heroin and marijuana
  • Alcohol can damage a developing baby before you even know you’re pregnant
  • FASD is rarely diagnosed, making it an invisible disorder
Source: NOFAS.org

Kathleen_webKathleen is vice president of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS).

 

 


Resources
FASD PREVENTION PROJECT

AWHONN is a national partner on the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Prevention Project of the Arc, a non-profit advocacy organization serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The goal of the FASD Prevention Project is to increase health care professional knowledge of the risks alcohol can pose to a fetus, encourage the use of FASD prevention strategies and provide educational opportunities to health care professionals, including nurses, midwives, and nurse practitioners. Learn more about this project and resources you can use. 

Take A Walk In My Postpartum Shoes (Part 1)

DaniFamily_1by, Danni Starr

An open letter to all the moms, soon to be moms or family supporting moms!

On December 31st, 2011 I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl! It was something I had dreamed about for so long. I remember the day after she was born crying on the phone with my midwife because I was so overwhelmed. She was so little and I didn’t really know what to do.

Being a little overwhelmed is common, medical specialists call it the baby blues. Post-birth, most moms (as many as 85%!) experience some form of the baby blues. This could be feeling irritable, exhausted, needing to cry for no reason or worrying that you won’t be a good mom.

I did not have that. I had something that damn near sucked the life out of me.

Once we returned home from the hospital, I rarely got off of the couch for 30 days. I got up to feed the baby and change her…I didn’t even eat. I remember just feeling so weird. Everything was robotic. Must feed baby, must change baby…I don’t even remember enjoying any of it.

I remember my husband picking me off of the couch giving me a hug and saying babe, you do not smell good…I am going to take you to the shower. He literally stripped me down and put me in the shower and helped wash me. Many times with post-partum depression (PPD) the mom is too tired to notice the symptoms, and it is a husband, partner, a family member or friend that shares that something just isn’t quite right.  I am thankful for my supportive system every day.

One night I was so tired that I actually Googled how many sleeping pills I could take without dying. I didn’t want to die, but I did want to be pretty close so that at least I would sleep for a few days. I literally had a bunch of pills laid out on the ottoman. I started to down them and then I thought. What if I am unconscious and she starts crying?! Nobody will hear her. I didn’t want her to cry and not have help. So I begged God to let me fall asleep and I threw the pills away. She saved my life.

Then the paranoia set in. I started to think that something very terrible was going to happen. So I started to place emergency items around the house. Things I would need to run away with. I made sure not to be too obvious because I didn’t want my husband to be on to me. One day he left to go to the store. I remember it so clearly, “babe I’m running to the store be back in a few.”

He stepped out of the house and I threw all of my emergency items in a bag, grabbed the baby and ran.

My grandpa was staying in a nursing home at the time and I knew nobody would look for me there so I went to his house and I hid out. I had NO contact with the outside world for days. Yes, I kidnapped my own child because at this point I was pretty unstable.

My husband and best friend were texting like crazy. Finally about ten days in I received a message from best friend which said, “I love you, but right now I have to love your baby more and I will call the police because I know you need help.” I finally told her where I was but begged her not to come. She sent a family friend who is a nurse to see me.

The nurse showed up and told me I had postpartum depression. I had no idea that 15% of new moms experience PPD which is way more intense than the blues, and encompassed so many of the things I was feeling and thinking. But at the time I didn’t know any of that, all I knew is that I just wanted to disappear. I hated everything, I couldn’t function and I was mad that I wasn’t connecting with such a precious little baby.

I never wanted to hurt my baby but I know many women who suffer from PPD do, and I would be lying if I said that I never wanted to hurt myself.

I don’t even remember when I started feeling better. There is so much about that time that scares me, so much more that I could share, but even writing about it makes me feel horrible. It’s a place I NEVER want to return to, and I would NEVER wish it upon anyone.

There were periods of time where I felt that I was bordering on insanity.

Follow the rest of my story in my Part 2 post publishing October 9th – National Depression Screening Day. Take care of yourself!
Danni Starr HeadshotDanni Starr
Danni Starr works daily as co-host of the nationally syndicated “The Kane Show.” Danni fell in love with radio at 19 and 11 years later, she still considers it her first true love. As a Mother and wife Danni is the “Den Mom” to the show & offers open, honest, opinions and advice.

 


The above story is adapted from Danni’s original post: https://www.facebook.com/notes/danni-starr/take-a-walk-in-my-postpartum-shoes/572481839449596


Get Support

Postpartum Support International: 1-800-994-4773 or postpartum.net
National Postpartum Depression Hotline: 1-800-PPD-MOMS

References and Learn More at

AWHONN’s Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Pregnant and Postpartum Women Position Statement

Postpartum Depression