As a nurse, you have the opportunity to work in many different settings. Some nurses choose to take a general practice route and apply to whatever job opening sounds interesting, while others know what specialty they’re meant for long before graduation.
One often popular specialty area is labor and delivery. Nurses in this setting have the challenging yet rewarding job of caring for mothers and their new babies. The average salary range for labor and delivery nurses in the U.S. falls between $81,000 and $114,500 per year, though exact rates will vary depending on a candidate’s skill level, years of experience, and geographic location.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a labor and delivery nurse, here’s what you need to know, as well as the steps you’ll need to take.
What Does a Labor and Delivery Nurse Do?
A labor and delivery nurse’s primary role is to help mothers safely deliver their babies. Responsibilities may include monitoring both the baby’s and mother’s vital signs, timing contractions, and coaching mothers through the birth, administering medications and epidurals, inducing labor, and handling any birth complications.
Like in any other specialty, nurses who work on these units are members of a health care team. They work closely with obstetricians and gynecologists in the ward, as well as other medical and support staff.
In addition to providing medical care, labor and delivery nurses also advocate for the mother’s and baby’s well-being.
This includes providing comfort and emotional support to mothers and their partners during the birth, as well as educating patients and their families from pregnancy throughout postpartum stages.
Where Do Labor and Delivery Nurses Work?
Labor and delivery nurses typically work in hospitals, but they can also work in clinics or birthing centers, or within the community.
As nurses gain more experience with this type of care, they may choose to further specialize to advance their careers. There are many options for certification or advanced education in this field.
For example, a labor and delivery nurse can pursue certification as a lactation consultant, and provide this support to mothers in their unit or facility. Another option is going back to school and getting a master’s or doctorate degree to become a Certified Nurse-Midwife.
Education and Training Requirements
As with all other registered nurses, labor and delivery nurses must first pass their licensing examination to become a registered nurse, which you can do after graduating from a nursing program.
Keep in mind, the type of degree you graduate with can matter. Some facilities will accept applicants with an associate degree in nursing, but most hospitals prefer or even require candidates to have a Bachelor of Science in nursing.
Although prospective nurses don’t typically specialize prior to licensure, taking coursework with clinical hours related to maternity and newborns provides valuable insight and experience and stands out on a resume.
However, labor and delivery nurses tend to get most of their training while on the job. A number of facilities offer internships for new hires, providing additional education and support to help nurses safely work with this population.
Some facilities also require nurses to partake in specific coursework or obtain specialty certifications, such as the Obstetric Nursing Certification (RNC-OB). Although not necessary for an entry-level position, you also have the option to pursue a master’s or doctoral degree to advance your career and knowledge base.
In addition to training and education requirements, nurses must complete continuing education coursework on a regular basis. Most states require 20 continuing education units (CEUs) to be completed during each licensing period, which is typically every two years.
Some states also require a certain number of hours to be dedicated to a nurse’s area of specialty practice. Consult with your state licensing board for further information on continuing education requirements.
5 Tips for Becoming a Labor and Delivery Nurse
If you’ve decided to pursue the career path of labor and delivery, here are some valuable tips for landing that coveted job.
1. Consider Your “Why” (And Express It Clearly)
Whether you’re passionate about supporting new mothers or want to be a part of the miracle of life, consider the reason you’re pursuing labor and delivery. Reflecting on your “why” can help you push through difficult coursework or a challenging clinical rotation.
Once you’ve determined your driving force behind your career, practice talking it through with others. Doing this will help you prepare for the inevitable interview question of “Why do you want to be a labor and delivery nurse?”
2. Shadow a Labor and Delivery Nurse
Whether you’re still in school or a practicing nurse looking to pursue a labor and delivery specialty, shadowing a nurse can help you get a sense of what your day-to-day might look like.
Reach out to your professional contacts or local hospitals to ask about observing. You may also consider volunteering within the hospital, which is not only a great resume builder, but it can also apply toward clinical hours in certain circumstances.
3. Research and Join Specialty Associations
Look into relevant specialty associations, such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and consider joining one. These associations offer resources and educational opportunities, as well as networking and career-building events.
Additionally, adding specialty associations to your resume indicates your interest and dedication to the field to prospective employers.
4. Pursue Relevant Continuing Education and Additional Training
In addition to your nursing degree and license, consider pursuing specialized certifications and relevant coursework. Although all nurses must complete a certain number of CEUs, you have the freedom to tailor your credits toward courses that will help you in your specialized work.
The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) offers relevant coursework that can improve your practice, including courses like Fetal Heart Monitoring, Critical Care Obstetrics, and Post-Birth Warning Signs. These classes not only provide you with valuable information, they also prepare you for certification examinations.
While these courses can be expensive, some employers may offer to cover partial or full costs for relevant continuing education — especially if the course or certification is required for the job.
5. Find Your Inner Strength
Though incredibly fulfilling, labor and delivery nursing is not an easy career. You’ll be faced with a fast-paced and stressful environment, heartbreaking situations, and many new challenges.
Through all of this, you have to remain calm under pressure, manage your emotions, and meet any challenges that arise. If you can draw from your inner strength, all while providing quality patient care and maintaining your passion, you’ll thrive in your work as a labor and delivery nurse.