Labor and delivery nurse career guide

HomeNursingLabor and delivery nurse

Labor and delivery nurses have a unique job. They provide care during labor, assist the delivery of healthy babies, and provide postpartum care for newborns. They’re responsible for bringing new life into this world. That makes it a fulfilling career choice and one that will always be required. 

Labor and delivery nursing is a specialization that registered nurses (RNs) can pursue. In this role, you’ll typically work in hospitals, clinics, or birthing centers. As well as providing emotional and psychological support, tasks include monitoring the mother’s condition during labor, seeking appropriate treatments as needed, providing care during delivery, and responding to the immediate health needs after delivery.

Labor and delivery nurses usually work on a team with other medical professionals, including midwives, physicians, and obstetricians. Unlike other nursing roles, these nurses have very specific tasks, and you’ll generally work with a small number of patients each day, spending a considerable amount of time with each one.

You’ll need to earn a degree and gain a license as an RN, then specialize in this area to become a labor and delivery nurse. You can gain a particular certification in your field for inpatient obstetric nursing. Labor and delivery nurses come under the umbrella of RNs, which are required across the country. The states with the highest concentration of jobs are South Dakota, West Virginia, Mississippi, Rhode Island, and Delaware.

There are several reasons why you might want a career as a labor and delivery nurse. The annual salary in this role starts at around $46,000 and can go as high as $90,000. In general, the job prospects for registered nurses are good, with a projected growth of 7% predicted between 2019 and 2029.

In this article, you’ll discover the job responsibilities of labor and delivery nurses and determine what education and licenses you need. You’ll also determine the skills and attributes that suit this profession and learn about the potential career development in this field.

Pursuing a career as a labor and delivery nurse

Being part of a special moment in people’s lives is a privilege and a big responsibility. It makes the role of labor and delivery nurse appealing, as does the fact that you get to spend quite a lot of time with your patients. The role is rewarding and suits those who enjoy working with people in a practical and supportive way.

It’s a complex role, as you’ll need to simultaneously keep in mind the needs of 2 patients.  Both the mother and the baby are your priorities, even though they may have conflicting needs. For that reason, the job requires understanding, strong ethics, and an engaging manner that can recognize emotional and physical needs. And although you might start your career as an RN in a more general field, you’ll grow to become an advocate for the health of mothers and newborns.

The fast-paced role of a labor and delivery nurse involves working closely with the patients, family members, and other medical staff. Professionalism and excellent communication skills are an asset for labor and delivery nurses. It’s a tense and emotional experience with the potential for issues; for that reason, a calm demeanor, clear and practical thinking, and a stable outlook are beneficial.

The biggest employers of labor and delivery nurses are hospitals. You could also work in other clinical settings, such as birthing centers. Wherever you work, labor can happen at any time, which means you’ll typically work shifts of 12 hours. These hours could be in the evening, overnight, and on the weekends, and it’s not unusual for labor and delivery nurses to stay with their patients if a baby is born toward the end of the shift.

How to become a labor and delivery nurse

There are several steps on the path to becoming a labor and delivery nurse. However, with the right approach and skills, it is achievable. The first part involves earning a nursing degree. After that’s complete, you can sit for the exam to get your RN license. Most labor and delivery nurses are expected to have 1 year of experience working as an RN before they specialize.

As part of your specialization, you might work as a postpartum nurse with the goal to attain certification. This process can take between 3 and 6 years to complete. There are 2 educational routes to becoming an RN—  either an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) at an accredited school.

After obtaining your license as an RN, you’ll want to seek experience in labor and delivery units and related departments. Through those roles, you can enhance your specialist knowledge, seek on-the-job training, and pursue certification.

Associate degree in nursing (ADN)

The fastest way to become an RN is through an ADN. These programs usually require 18 months to 2 years of studying. You’ll need to complete between 65 and 80 credits and take some general education courses.

The nursing curriculum includes:

  • Clinical judgment and critical care
  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Basic nutrition
  • Pathophysiology
  • Health assessments

Typically, you’ll complete theoretical units, lab work, clinical courses, and a capstone project in leadership. As part of the application process, students will need to submit high school transcripts showing a grade-point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher, standardized test scores, and evidence of immunizations and health insurance.

Bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)

The longer but more in-depth route that could benefit your nursing career in the future involves earning a BSN. You could also complete this degree later using a bridge program. It usually takes 4 years, with around 50 credit hours for general education and over 60 credits in nursing. 

The BSN curriculum typically includes:

  • Parent and child nursing
  • Health assessment and promotion
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Health care ethics
  • Adult and elderly nursing

Most degrees include a case study or capstone project, clinical hours, and a focus on community nursing. Generally, colleges require you to apply with your high school transcripts showing at least a 3.0 GPA, a recommendation letter, and standardized test scores.

Licensure and certification

To gain experience as an RN before you specialize in labor and delivery nursing, you’ll need to have a license. You can sit for the exam after you’ve completed your ADN or BSN program. The NCLEX-RN is set by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

After you’ve gained 2 years of experience as an RN working with mothers and newborns, you can sit for an exam to get a credential in inpatient obstetric nursing (RNC-OB) from the National Certification Corporation (NCC). It could help you secure a permanent role as a labor and delivery nurse or give you opportunities to take on more responsibilities.

Working as a labor and delivery nurse

The average annual salary for labor and delivery nurses is $65,414, or an average hourly rate of $31.45. You’ll usually find work in a clinical setting, particularly hospitals and birthing centers. You’ll be based on maternity wards and in delivery rooms, where you might need to call in specialists as required.

The role involves a significant amount of patient contact with mothers, newborns, family members, midwives, and doctors. Midwives play a different role from labor and delivery nurses as they care for patients throughout their pregnancy. Working as part of a team while being a strong advocate for your patients is an important balance that labor and delivery nurses need to strike.

Duties of labor and delivery nurses include:

  • Monitor patient and provide direct care to mother and baby
  • Communicate patient status to other members of the team
  • Evaluate needs and refer as appropriate
  • Provide care and support during labor and immediately after
  • Time contractions
  • Administer medications and epidurals

Due to the high demand, you might find an opportunity to work as a labor and delivery travel nurse. In this role, you’ll move between different facilities providing care and support in different locations as required. Some organizations provide specific programs for this role to help you find positions and meet requirements for various locations.

Attributes that are required for a labor and delivery role are a calm demeanor, clear thinking under pressure, and an ability to support patients throughout a range of emotions. Labor and delivery nurses need to work in a team with midwives and doctors who take an active role in the actual delivery.  They also liaise with family members, so polite and effective communication is essential.

Advance your career as a labor and delivery nurse

After some time working as a labor and delivery nurse, you might want to progress in your field. There are 2 primary routes for advancing in terms of responsibility, education, and salary. One is a certified nurse-midwife (CNM); the other is a nurse practitioner in obstetrics and gynecology. They both require a master of science in nursing (MSN) with different specializations. 

MSN programs

MSN degree programs equip you to progress from an RN to an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). For those wanting to become a nurse practitioner in obstetrics and gynecology, you’ll typically take the family nurse specialization. Those interested in becoming a CNM can choose a nursing midwifery specialty.

MSN programs include:

  • Leadership and management
  • Advocacy and population health
  • Rotations in clinical settings
  • Health care and technology
  • Advanced nurse practice in reproductive health care

Who is this career best for?

A career as a labor and delivery nurse would suit those who want a career in nursing that supports mothers and babies. It’s a role with specific duties compared to work on other wards as an RN. You’ll be present for emotional moments in people’s lives, with both very happy and sad outcomes, so you’ll need to have the strength to support patients and remain calm.

As you’ll be working in a clinical setting, the role of labor and delivery nurse wouldn’t suit someone who wants to work from home. Typically, these positions require shift work and long hours that could include evenings and weekends.

American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM)

This national association represents the interests of midwives in the U.S. in their work with women across their lifespans, specifically during pregnancy and childbirth.

Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN)

The mission statement for AWHONN is based on supporting and empowering nurses who care for women and newborns.

National Certification Corporation (NCC)

This certification company has a competency-based exam for obstetrics, which provides a credential that demonstrates your ability in this field.