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What is a Labor and Delivery Nurse?|Everything You Need to Know

What is a Labor and Delivery Nurse?|Everything You Need to Know

When moms look back on the day they brought their child into the world, the support and encouragement of labor and delivery nurses is often foremost in their memories—even decades later. A competent, caring labor and delivery nurse can make all the difference in a woman’s labor and delivery experience, and they often set the tone for a calm, relaxed atmosphere and an informed, confident patient.

Labor and delivery nurses provide crucial care during some of the most transformative moments in life. When mothers and families experience some of the most challenging, intense, and spellbinding moments of their lives, labor and delivery nurses are there to offer encouragement, support, and top-quality care. L&D nurses support mothers and infants throughout labor and delivery and into the first hours and days postpartum.

What is a Labor and Delivery Nurse? 

Unlike certified nurse midwives, labor and delivery nurses aren’t trained to deliver babies. Instead, they operate as support to doctors and patients.

What does a Labor and Delivery Nurse Do? 

A few of the roles of a labor and delivery nurse include: 

  • Monitoring how well mom and baby are handling labor 
  • Monitoring fetal heart tones 
  • Administering medications when necessary 
  • Informing patients of their options and talking to them about the risks of possible interventions 
  • Performing cervical checks to assess dilation and positioning of the baby 
  • Monitoring contractions and progress of labor 
  • Offering suggestions for natural pain management and coping techniques 
  • Encouraging patients and constantly reminding them that they are stronger and more capable than they know 
  • Assisting a midwife or doctor with the delivery

Why is a Labor and Delivery Nurse Important? 

Labor and delivery nurses fill a vital physician-to-patient gap. It’s well-documented that women who feel supported, confident, and informed have better outcomes in labor, and sometimes labor and delivery nurses are the only ones available to provide that support. They’re on call to support patients during the early hours of labor through delivery—a task that there simply aren’t enough midwives or doctors to cover. Because labor and delivery nurses spend more time with patients than doctors can, their diligence and insight can be life-saving.

Labor and delivery nurses are also often the coordinators to ensure things happen fast in case of an emergency, precipitous labor, or unforeseen complication. They’re often responsible for calling for assistance, prepping a patient for a c-section, answering patient questions, and anticipating myriad problems before they become major issues. They function as a go-between and a coordinator of the hustle and bustle that can surround the delivery, and they play a fundamental role in a patient’s birth experience.

How to Become a Labor and Delivery Nurse

Labor and delivery nurses typically have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), with specialized training in labor and delivery. They’re also calm and collected, able to think on their feet, roll with the punches, and prepared for an emotionally, mentally, and physically demanding shift every time they go to work. It’s crucial that L&D nurses have compassion and kindness that allows them to support a huge variety of women through their births, no matter what goes down during labor! This is a place where truly caring for patients and working well in a birth team with other birth professionals is non-negotiable.

Labor and Delivery Nurse Education Requirements and Training 

The first step: earn a degree and pass the NCLEX to become a registered nurse. Completing nursing school involves passing fundamental math, communication, anatomy and physiology, and pharmacology classes, among others, as well as completing supervised clinical experiences.

The next step: Specialized labor and delivery training and experience. Though you can become an RN without a 4-year bachelor’s degree, most labor and delivery nurses earn their BSN. During that process, nurses can choose to take specialized classes to prepare them to work in an L&D department. These classes include in-depth training on fetal monitoring, neonatal resuscitation, managing postpartum hemorrhage and other conditions, and c-section prep. 

Labor and delivery nurses are typically required to maintain certification in basic life support and advanced cardiac life support. After two years of experience in an L&D department, nurses are eligible to become certified in Inpatient Obstetric Nursing, a credential provided by the National Certification Corporation. Most hospitals require that nurses pass the test to obtain this certification after a set period of employment. 

Labor and delivery nurses may also choose to deepen their specialties by pursuing other training (sometimes leading certification, sometimes not) related to prenatal care and the postpartum experience. 

  • Some nurses take lactation courses to help support women and infants in establishing a breastfeeding relationship. The Healthy Children Project is one of the leaders in providing lactation training to nurses and other healthcare professionals. 
  • Some nurses choose to invest in training to help support lower-intervention, healthier birth experiences and outcomes in the community.
  • Some labor and delivery nurses also choose to teach childbirth education classes at hospitals or birth centers where they work or at a community organization—helping to empower mothers by teaching them about the stages of labor and giving them crucial information about their birth options. 

L&D Nurse Career Outlook 

Labor and delivery nurses aren’t going anywhere. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for registered nurses, in general, is expected to grow 15% between 2016 and 2026. According to PayScale.com, labor and delivery nurses make $50-90k per year, depending on their specialties, place of work, and experience. Zip Recruiter reports that labor and delivery nurses in New York, Massachusetts, and Nebraska make significantly more than their counterparts in other states; in these states, L&D nurses often earn more than $100k/year. 

Opportunities for labor and delivery nurses are expected to continue to grow, but as a specialized and highly competitive field, it takes passion, grit, and determination to become a labor and delivery nurse at many hospitals. 

Work Environment

Labor and delivery nurses can expect to work in generally joyful but high-stress environments. Every woman reacts a little differently to childbirth (as do their support people), things can change at the drop of a hat, and labor and delivery nurses have to be prepared to call for help, deal with emergencies, and change course rapidly as labor unfolds.

Labor and delivery nurses are expected to work cohesively in a team with a wide variety of birth professionals, to cope with the unexpected, and to be physically ready to help women in labor move around. They sometimes deal with the heartbreak of losing an infant or, more rarely, a mother, and they offer infant care as well as care for the woman in labor. 

Labor and Delivery Nurse Resources

FAQs

Q: How long does it take to become a labor and delivery nurse? 
A: Labor and delivery nurses typically attend school for 4-5 years to earn a BSN, often with a specialization in labor and delivery.

Q: How much do labor and delivery nurses make? 
A: Registered nurses in the U.S. make an average of $68,450 per year. Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t report salaries for specific specialties like labor and delivery, labor and delivery nurses in many locales report earning $80-$100k per year

Q: How difficult is it to become a labor and delivery nurse? 
A: L&D can be a competitive department to get started in, but the field of labor and delivery nursing is expected to continue growing consistently. 

Q: Where can you go to school to become a labor and delivery nurse? 
A: You begin by becoming a registered nurse; search for schools here

Helpful Organizations, Societies, and Agencies

These organizations are highly relevant for nurses in general and those pursuing a specialization in labor and delivery. 

Our Nursing Scholarship

Check out our scholarship for potential medical professionals like you!

What now?

Think you have what it takes to become a labor and delivery nurse? If so, you have an exciting journey ahead. L&D nurses witness the miracle of birth and the resiliency of women every shift, and they leave each shift knowing they’ve made a real difference for their patients. The sky is the limit when it comes to supporting families and communities as they grow.

Whether you choose to remain a labor and delivery nurse or go on to specialize further in neonatal nursing or becoming a nurse midwife, the difference you’ll make in your clients’ lives will be incomparable. Explore your educational options here and take the first step toward your new career today! 

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