If you’re a healthcare worker who spends your break strolling the maternity ward, grinning at all the sleeping, cooing and, yes, even the screaming new joyous bundles, chances are you’re already a labor and delivery nurse.
But if you’re not and the sight of an infant never fails to fill you with warm fuzzies, then you may want to consider becoming one.
Perhaps you’re a parent yourself and want to share your wisdom and caring hand with new moms and dads. Or maybe you want to help women officially cross the threshold into motherhood. Perhaps you—like so many of us—just love babies and want to be one of the first faces they see as they enter the world.
But what steps do you need to take to become a labor and delivery nurse?
The labor and delivery nurse job description
Labor and delivery nursing is a specialized healthcare field where you train to complete very special, very specific tasks like caring for Mom in the months leading up to delivery or during the birthing process itself, as well as providing postpartum care.
It’s an intense role with many responsibilities attached, but ask almost any labor and delivery nurse and they’ll tell you it’s also one of the most joyful roles they have. After all, you’re helping to bring new lives into the world.
What is the role of a labor and delivery nurse?
A labor and delivery nurse’s duties fall into four stages: antepartum, intrapartum, postpartum and neonatal. Let’s take a look at each in further detail.
Antepartum—derived from the Latin “ante” (before) and partum “birth”—refers to the gestation period of pregnancy up to labor. Although you won’t be the only healthcare provider involved at this stage, your role as a labor and delivery nurse will be to perform ultrasounds and monitor vital signs for both Mom and baby.
Intrapartum refers to the “active labor” part of pregnancy. When people think of labor and delivery nurses (or those “Gimme just one more push!” hospital scenes in the movies), this is what usually comes to mind.
During this stage, you’ll help Mom actually deliver the baby. It can be a long, stressful process, and there’s always a risk of complications. When assisting with the labor, you’ll need to be resilient, energetic and compassionate but firm and quick-thinking.
Postpartum is the period right after birth. Newborns and their mothers are settling down from an epically exhausting experience. Tending to their physical and emotional needs must be done with tender, loving care.
During neonatal care, you’ll be caring for the newborns themselves. Labor and delivery nurses handle low-risk scenarios, but premature newborns usually go to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where specially trained NICU nurses watch over them.
At all stages of the game, from antepartum to neonatal, labor and delivery nurses share a few basic tasks:
- Monitoring the mother and baby’s vital signs, including fetal monitoring
- Inducing labor or timing contractions
- Administering medications, including epidurals
- Comforting new parents through the process
How to become a labor and delivery nurse
Labor and delivery nurse certifications require an extensive amount of training that includes a step-by-step curriculum during nursing school.
First, you need to earn your stripes as a registered nurse. Finding a nursing specialty means you’ve met the basic nursing educational requirements, which means graduating with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and passing your NCLEX-RN exam. Nursing student discounts may come in handy while studying since you’ll be there for a while. If you know a fellow nurse who’s going through the process, you can shoot a Jaanuu gift card (or two or three) their way to support them as they pursue a career as rewarding as this one.
After completing nursing school and passing your exams, you must gain at least one year of clinical experience as an RN. Only then can you begin to explore your options as a labor and delivery nurse. Then you’ll need training in specific areas related to labor and delivery, such as obstetrics and gynecology or certified midwifery.
Soft skills you’ll require for this position include:
- Quick thinking in emergencies
- Emotionally steady behavior
- A clear, firm but compassionate style of communication
- Proactivity in patient care
- Comfort in fast-paced environments
- A dedication to cleanliness (remember, to keep your newborn patients safe you’ll need to wash and disinfect your scrubs regularly!)
Where can you work, and what’s the salary?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a delivery and labor nurse salary is, on average, $75,330 per year.
As a nurse who focuses on newborns, you’ll have the option of working in three key areas: hospitals, birthing centers and patient homes.
At hospitals, where most labor and delivery nurses find work, you’ll be stationed in maternity wards, delivery rooms and neonatal care units to help with the birthing process from start to finish. These days, in our post-pandemic world, some hospitals sadly don’t allow loved ones to accompany Mom in the delivery room, which can make the experience all the more emotionally challenging. That’s where labor and delivery nurses step in to go above and beyond to cheer her on.
2. Birthing centers
Birthing facilities take a more holistic approach to prenatal healthcare and are typically much smaller and more intimate than hospitals. Here, labor and delivery nurses act as midwives who specialize in low-risk pregnancies with mothers who want to give birth in a more natural context. You can find these unique alternative delivery rooms both in the beating heart of urban centers and at remote private retreats.
3. Patient homes
Although delivering babies outside a traditional healthcare setting (like a hospital) comes with increased risk, it is an option that many expecting parents consider. Labor and delivery nurses, who are well-trained in the art of thinking on the fly, can employ travel nursing techniques to visit private homes and assist in a more intimate manner with intrapartum and postpartum care.
That said, only mothers with low-risk pregnancies should consider this option. High-risk pregnancies, like those that may require a C-section, should happen in a traditional medical facility.
Labor and delivery nurse or midwife?
In short, the big difference between labor and delivery nurses and midwives comes down to where they work. Labor and delivery nurses (and neonatal nurses) work at hospitals, and certified nurse-midwives work at birthing centers, or they operate their own private practices. Either way, both wear scrubs, so if you’re working toward being (or already are) a nurse who helps bring babies into the world, you’ll most certainly need an ample supply of quality uniforms. Jaanuu’s got you covered, for both women and men.
Be prepared, dedicated and full of joy
No matter your specialized field, a nurse’s work life is demanding (we needn’t tell you twice). But when your skill and training allows you to welcome newborns on a daily basis, be it at a hospital or in an alternative setting like a birthing center, it’s all the easier to see how essential you are as a medical professional. After all, without labor and delivery nurses, how bright could the future truly be?
May each day on the job as a labor and delivery nurse be as joyous as a newborn’s smile!