Labor and delivery nurse with patient

Labor and delivery nurses (L&D nurses) serve mothers during labor and delivery. Nurses in L&D help women through the most transformative experience of their lives. They witness the miracle of childbirth every shift and care for infants immediately following their arrival into the world. 

Labor and delivery nurses offer vital support to both patients in labor and obstetrician-gynecologists (OBGYNs). Before, during, and after childbirth, the L&D nurse is a source of comfort and guidance for patients, their partners, and loved ones.

If you love the idea of being part of such a meaningful and rewarding nursing field, here is everything you need to know about labor and delivery nurses. 

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What is the difference between a Labor and Delivery Nurse and a Registered Nurse (RN)?

A labor and delivery nurse is a registered nurse who specializes in treating patients in the maternity ward. They may also work in a birthing center with midwives. The labor and delivery nurse is there with mothers from when they’re admitted to labor until they’re discharged. 

They care for mothers, offer support, and help coach them through childbirth while caring for newborns and ensuring they get the healthiest start to their lives. 

A labor and delivery nurse may only hold an RN license and work in L&D. However, some pursue advanced certifications and become nurse-midwives. Nurse-midwives are RNs who are specifically trained to assist women in labor and childbirth. 

What is the difference between a Labor and Delivery Nurse and Obstetrics Nurse (OB)?

OB nursing is broader than labor and delivery, caring for mothers throughout pregnancy, through labor, and after delivery (antepartum, intrapartum, and postpartum care). 

While an OB nurse can assist with labor and delivery, their skills and training encompass a broader skill set. For example, they may work in an obstetrician’s office, offering maternity care to mothers-to-be.

Labor and delivery nurses, however, focus specifically on labor, birthing, and the immediate postpartum process. In addition, they’re involved in active and post-labor recovery stages, infant nursing, and neonatal care. 

Some OB nurses may be placed in specialized antepartum units, caring for mothers with high-risk pregnancies who require specialized care or bed rest before labor and delivery.

What is the difference between a Labor and Delivery Nurse and Maternity Nurse?

The term “labor and delivery nurse” and “maternity nurse” are the same, though the exact role and responsibilities can vary by hospital and title. In the UK, a maternity nurse is more common than a labor and delivery nurse, but they perform the same tasks.

A nurse who works in the maternity ward of a hospital can also be considered a maternity nurse, even if they don’t consider themselves OB nurses or labor and delivery nurses. However, because they work in the maternity ward, their job responsibilities are the same as labor and delivery nurses.

Both types of nurses support mothers throughout the labor and birthing process. They provide reassurance, comfort, and coaching as they move through the stages of labor and eventually deliver their babies.

What qualifications does a Labor and Delivery Nurse need? 

Firstly, every labor and delivery nurse must be a registered nurse (RN) in their state. You can become an RN by completing an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program from an accredited school.

After completing your training, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam. This exam is the nationally recognized nursing exam that grants you your license. 

Once you’ve become an RN, you can look for jobs in local hospital maternity wards. However, you may need to work as a general RN for 2 or 3 years before you qualify for specialized roles.

Additionally, many labor and delivery nurses like to pursue additional certifications. The RNC-OB license makes you an Inpatient Obstetric Nurse. Before taking the RNC-OB exam, you must hold a valid RN license in the U.S. or Canada and have at least 2000 hours of nursing experience.

What work does a Labor and Delivery Nurse do daily?

Every day is different thanks to the variety of patients. Some mothers are experienced moms giving birth to their third, fourth, or fifth child. Others are young, first-time mothers with a lot of stress and anxiety, requiring even more support and hands-on care.

Every mother’s journey is unique, and the dynamics between them, their partner, or birthing coach are also important. As a labor and delivery nurse, you’ll find that some patients appreciate as much guidance as possible, while others prefer more distance. 

The daily duties of a labor and delivery nurse center around providing support to the mother and, after birth, her newborn baby. 

Some typical responsibilities for a labor and delivery nurse are:

  • Offering support and clinical care to pregnant women.

  • Teaching childbirth classes to expectant parents and families.

  • Routinely monitoring mother’s and baby’s vitals during labor.

  • Checking the baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels.

  • Monitoring the strength and length of a mother’s contractions.

  • Assisting and supporting women during both normal and high-risk labors and deliveries.

  • Offering immediate care to newborns in the nursery. 

  • Answering questions, providing support, and coaching new parents on how to nurse, feed, and care for their newborns.

Where do Labor and Delivery Nurses work? 

The majority of labor and delivery nurses work in maternity wards in hospitals. However, some may work in birthing centers, which offer mothers a less clinical environment and more flexibility in the birthing experience. 

Most L&D nurses spend their shifts in delivery rooms throughout the maternity ward and the newborn nursery.

What is it like to be a Labor and Delivery Nurse?

It’s a beautiful experience coaching mothers and their partners through labor and delivery. Supporting a woman as she becomes a mother is always rewarding, and every woman is unique. 

Being able to care for babies immediately after they enter the world can feel surreal, but it is also incredibly humbling and heartwarming. However, if you are tending to mothers or babies with complications, there can also be high-stress levels. 

You may sometimes be frustrated or hurt by a mother who is not responsive to your care. This feeling is understandable as she may be lashing out due to pain, anxiety, and fear. However, as a labor and delivery nurse, you know not to take things personally and always put the patient’s safety and well-being ahead of your feelings.

In most cases, women sincerely appreciate their labor and delivery nurses. You may even be the one to coach a single mother with no other support through her entire childbirth. That experience can have a lasting impression on you as a nurse and as a person. 

How much do Labor and Delivery Nurses Make?

Salaries for nurses vary throughout the United States. The average salary of labor and delivery nurses is $75,192.16. Nurses’ salaries tend to increase as they gain experience. Additional certifications can help you qualify for higher pay.

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Are there different specialties for Labor and Delivery Nurses? 

A labor and delivery nurse can pursue several specialty certifications that further their career. 

Obstetrics is the most common specialization for labor and delivery nurses. Earning your RNC-OB will make you a licensed obstetric nurse who can offer more in-depth support to pregnant women and women in active labor. 

Additional certifications and training include:

  • High-risk pregnancy care

  • High-risk or complicated labor and delivery

  • Women’s gynecological healthcare

  • Electronic fetal monitoring (C-EFM)

  • Neonatal resuscitation program certification (NRP)

  • Certified nurse-midwife (CNM)

  • Neonatal nursing

  • Neonatal intensive care

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Career as a Labor and Delivery Nurse

Advantages of Choosing a Career as a Labor and Delivery Nurse

The most significant advantage to being a labor and delivery nurse is witnessing the incredible moment a new life arrives in the world. You get to see the look of pure love in the eyes of new mothers and their partners as they hold their child for the first time.

You get to work hands-on with babies who have just entered the world—being able to cradle a newborn minutes after delivery is always a warm feeling.

You also get to earn a good salary and enjoy job stability. For those who want to travel, the opportunity to become a travel labor and delivery nurse opens after at least two years of experience. 

Disadvantages of Choosing a Career as a Labor and Delivery Nurse

While most deliveries are beautiful experiences, some do not end well. The baby or mother might suffer a medical emergency, and one or both of them could potentially die during labor or delivery. 

Although most patients have no complications, birthing or labor emergencies can cause a patient to fall into critical care in a matter of seconds. Therefore, you must be able to respond rapidly and do everything you can to help them and the baby. 

Sometimes, you may help a mother deliver her baby, only for it to be stillborn or too premature to survive. Other babies are born with disabilities or diagnoses that were not anticipated, so coaching parents through the shock and trauma can be difficult. 

Labor and delivery nursing is also very hands-on and physically demanding. You will be on your feet nonstop, and you’ll have to be able to lift, turn, and physically support your patients. 

Finally, most labor and delivery nurses need to earn additional certifications to find good-paying jobs in their field. The certificates required are usually, at a minimum, the RNC-OB, C-EFM, and ACLS (advanced cardiac life support). 

While being able to learn more and study is a pro for some nurses, others do not want to spend years after getting the RN earning more certificates, so it’s something to consider. 

How to Become a Labor and Delivery Nurse

You can become a labor and delivery nurse in two to six years, depending on the education requirements of your employer. 

All nurses start by earning an associate’s degree (ADSN) or bachelor’s degree (BSN) in nursing. Associate’s degrees take 18 months to two years, while a bachelor’s takes three and a half to four years. 

Once you’ve earned your degree, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX exam. This certificate will make you a licensed nurse in your state.

While many RNs look for work in labor and delivery right away, most will need to gain experience before they qualify to work in the maternity ward. Most employers will look for experience and additional certifications. Your next step will likely be acquiring the work experience to prepare for the RNC-OB exam. 

After becoming a licensed obstetric nurse, you’ll have the knowledge and skills to provide the greatest care to mothers and newborns in the maternity ward. 

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Frequently Asked Questions About Labor and Delivery Nurses

Do Labor and Delivery Nurses earn more than Registered Nurses (RNs)? 

Labor and delivery nurses earn about as much as registered nurses. Our research shows the average RN salary is $76,944.90, and the average labor and delivery nurse salary is $75,192.16.

Earnings for nurses vary by state, hospital, and even among nurses on the same floor. In addition, experience level, certifications, and education affect how much a nurse earns. 

Who is higher than a Labor and Delivery Nurse? 

A nurse-midwife is higher than a labor and delivery nurse, as is the obstetrician (OB) and an obstetrics nurse practitioner (OB-GYN). However, you can pursue further education to achieve either of these positions. 

An OB-GYN can assist pregnant women and treat women’s reproductive health, but they do not deliver babies. Certified nurse midwives, however, can perform uncomplicated, unassisted vaginal births. 

Does a Labor and Delivery Nurse have patients?

Labor and delivery nurses tend to patients admitted to the maternity ward. They are assigned to one mother at a time, so your entire shift will focus on tending to one patient. This stage can help build a deeper connection and ensure that the mother has the greatest emotional and medical support possible. 

Some L&D nurses also perform follow-up home visits so that you may see some patients and their babies again. 

Does a Labor and Delivery Nurse have more power than a doctor? 

No, no nurse has greater medical authority than a physician. A nurse’s role is to support a doctor and patients.

Do Labor and Delivery Nurses carry out C-Sections?

No, labor and delivery nurses do not perform any births. Instead, they assist with vaginal births in the delivery room and may act as a circulating nurse in the OR during C-Sections. Circulating nurses can assist with surgical preparations, insert catheters and IVs, count surgical instruments, and read physician’s notes. 

In some hospitals, labor and delivery nurses can also assist with post-op recovery after C-sections.