This step by step guide will show you exactly how to become a labor and delivery nurse and is designed to help you make a decision regarding if you would like to pursue a path to becoming a labor and delivery (L&D) nurse, and to answer common question such as how long does it take to become a labor and delivery nurse. Nursing is an excellent profession and, depending on who you are, working as a labor and delivery nurse could be the right fit for you. Read on to learn how to become a L&D nurse.
What is a Labor and Delivery Nurse?
A labor and delivery nurse is responsible for monitoring the health of mothers and newborns throughout the birthing process. They begin their engagement with expectant mothers during late pregnancy, and stay close by their side in the delivery room once they go into labor, remaining there until the baby is born. Labor and delivery nurses manage their responsibilities in partnership with obstetricians, obstetric nurses, and other healthcare professionals. They perform a variety of medical procedures designed to keep mothers and newborns safe, or that address medical complications that arise before, during, or after birth.
In addition to their direct medical responsibilities, labor and deliver nurses will communicate frequently with mothers in labor and with fathers or other family members in the delivery room, to answer questions, give them progress reports, and ease any doubts or fears they might have. Post-birth, they will advise mothers and fathers on how to properly care for newborn babies, and do everything they can to make mothers and their newborns feel comfortable over the duration of their hospital stay. If medical problems dictate a longer stay for either mother or child, labor and delivery nurses will remain a part of their medical care team.
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How Much Does a Labor and Delivery Nurse Make?
Labor and delivery nurses are one specialty among the ranks of registered nurses, and the annual median wage for registered nurses in 2019 was $73,300. However, nurses who work in hospitals (as most labor and delivery nurses do) can expect to earn a few thousand dollars more. In general, nurses who work on the West Coast or in the Northeast have higher annual salaries than nurses who work in other regions.
Between 2019 and 2029, the nationwide need for registered nurses is projected to rise by seven percent, which is 75 percent higher than the expected growth rate for all job categories as a whole. The call for labor and delivery nurses is universal, since the services of trained nurses who specialize in childbirth are required everywhere.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Labor And Delivery Nurse?
A very common question people ask when looking into this profession is how many years does it take to become a labor and delivery nurse? Depending on if you pursue an associate or bachelors degree, it can take a little more than two or four years respectively. While an extra two years may seem like a long time, if you get a bachelors degree you will be more marketable. This is discussed in more detail below in the next section, detailing how do you become a labor and delivery nurse.
How to Become a Labor And Delivery Nurse: A Step-by-Step Guide
Below is our step by step process detailing how to become a labor and delivery nurse.
Step 1: Study for an Associate or Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing
Traditionally, aspiring nurses have been able to find employment with an associate’s degree in nursing, which allows them to begin their nursing career after just two years of higher education. But hospitals and birthing centers are becoming more selective in their hiring practices, and most now prefer to hire entry-level candidates who have a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing from an accredited university.
Your bachelor’s degree program will train you for a career as a registered nurse, capable of performing all the duties required of a nurse regardless of their specialty. If you’re certain you want to be a labor and delivery nurse, you can prepare for that future by taking elective courses that cover topics in pediatric care, neonatal care, family medicine, and women’s health.
Most importantly, you’ll have opportunities to pursue internships or externships that place you in delivery rooms, nurseries, and other environments where obstetric care services are provided, under the supervision of a nurse with experience in your chosen field. Academic programs for prospective nurses always include extensive on-the-job training, which allows you to gain important practical experience in your preferred specialty.
Step 2: Take the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses
Following the successful completion of your undergraduate degree program, you’ll be eligible to sit for the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (the NCLEX-RN). Once you pass it, this definitive exam will grant you the necessary credentials to gain employment as a registered nurse, pursuing your chosen specialty. Your nursing license will allow you to work in any city, state, or territory in the United States.
Step 3: Seek Entry-Level Employment as a Labor and Delivery Specialist
Most newly licensed labor and delivery nurses will find employment in traditional hospitals, birthing centers, or maternity hospitals. They may also be able to find jobs in community health centers, clinics, or private medical practices as well, although these alternatives are more limited.
Because of the sensitive nature of their job, many labor and delivery nurses start out as interns, working under the careful supervision of experienced nurses who can offer guidance, insight, and important technical instruction. Even if you’ve already had clinical experience during your undergraduate degree program, a few months of extra instruction may be needed to prepare you to take on a lead role in the birthing process.
Step 4: Add Required and Optional Certifications
There are several certifications that are either mandatory or highly recommended for labor and delivery nurses. They may be required (or recommended) by a nurse’s state of residence, or by their employers. In most instances, newly minted labor and delivery nurses won’t have to obtain certifications to be eligible for employment. But if certifications are mandatory, they will need to be obtained shortly after a labor and delivery nurse accepts their initial entry-level position.
For example, most labor and delivery nurses are required to enroll in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Neonatal Resuscitation Program (or its equivalent). This short course teaches the techniques of neonatal resuscitation, and finishes with an exam that grants certification in this indispensable skill.
Additionally, the American Heart Association has developed a menu of certification-level courses that impart important knowledge to healthcare professionals who work with children. Some that may be required or useful for labor and delivery nurses include:
- Basic Life Support
- Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support
- Pediatric Advanced Life Support
The National Certification Corporation is another organization that offers certification options to labor and delivery nurses. They sponsor a series of specialized certification exams that can help practicing labor and delivery nurses meet certain requirements, or enhance their long-term career prospects.
These exams offer certification in:
- Electronic Fetal Monitoring
- Obstetric and Neonatal Quality and Safety
- Care of the Extremely Low Birth Weight Neonatal
- Neonatal Neuro-Intensive Care
- Inpatient Obstetric Nursing
- Maternal Newborn Nursing
The latter two certification exams are open only to practicing registered nurses with two or more years of experience working with newborns in clinical settings. They may be required, and can help to establish a labor and delivery nurse’s overall qualifications and experience.
Among labor and delivery nurses, certifications like these are highly coveted, and necessary to ensure career advancement. If you add certifications to your resume, they will function as tangible evidence of your medical knowledge and of your determination to become better at your job. Labor and delivery nurses with multiple certifications are more likely to receive promotions, and are likely to be considered stronger candidates for any other job openings they might pursue.
Step 5: Improve Your Long-Term Career Prospects with Post-Graduate Study
Graduate study is not necessary for labor and delivery nurses who are satisfied with their current job titles and levels of responsibility. Certification and the occasional continuing education class should be enough to ensure a reasonable rate of career advancement.
However, experienced labor and delivery nurses who would like to increase their responsibilities—and salaries—can pursue graduate study programs in nursing, which can qualify them to become advance practice registered nurses (APRNs), which are also known as nurse practitioners. Labor and delivery nurses who achieve nurse practitioner status will be qualified to assume supervisory or administrative roles, or they may be tasked with developing comprehensive care programs for patients (mothers and/or newborns) facing challenging health situations.
It is currently possible to become a nurse practitioner with a master’s degree. However, beginning in 2025, prospective nurse practitioners must obtain a doctorate to be eligible for nurse practitioner licensing and certification.
Many labor and delivery nurses seeking to advance their careers decide to become nurse midwives. Certified nurse midwives are advanced care nurses who provide comprehensive care to women throughout pregnancy, during the birthing process, and during the postpartum period. Nurse midwives function as an alternative to obstetrician-gynecologists, and are trained to manage each element of the reproductive cycle independently of a supervising physician.
To become a nurse midwife, you would need to obtain a Master of Science in Nursing from a university that offers nursing midwifery as a specialty.
Pros and Cons of a Career as a Labor and Delivery Nurse
Labor and delivery nurses are fortunate enough to witness, and to some extent share in, the happiness and excitement of new mothers and their loved ones, as they welcome a new child into the world. No other branch of medicine produces such a high proportion of happy endings, and labor and delivery nurses play an essential role in assuring these positive outcomes. Not surprisingly, labor and delivery nurses tend to express high levels of job satisfaction, in comparison to other types of medical practitioners.
Sometimes complications do arise during the birthing process, which can have significant consequences for the health of mothers and newborns alike. Labor and delivery nurses must occasionally deal with unexpected yet emotionally devastating results, which they may not be as prepared for as registered nurses who routinely treat gravely ill people. Like other types of nurses, labor and delivery nurses are often called on to work long hours, including regular 12-hour shifts and possible overtime if an expectant mother remains in labor for an extended period.
Important Characteristics of a Successful Labor & Delivery Nurse
Labor and delivery nurses are charged with caring for two patients simultaneously, only one of whom can express themselves verbally. Consequently, they must be highly observant at all times, since they can’t afford to miss even the slightest detail as the delivery process continues. While performing their duties, labor and delivery nurses must remain focused on the task at hand, completely absorbed in what they’re doing to make sure mother and child are kept safe and comfortable.
Labor and delivery nurses must have natural and well-rounded communication skills. They will be called on to interact with expectant mothers and family members from diverse backgrounds, experiencing emotions ranging from joyful to fearful, depending on the progress of the labor and the health of the baby and mother. Listening skills are especially important—women in labor may be experiencing pain, discomfort, or anxiety and they need to be heard and clearly understood, so that appropriate services can be provided.
Even beyond good listening skills, empathy is an essential characteristic that all successful labor and delivery nurses will possess. Even when the words aren’t spoken, labor and delivery nurses must be able to sense and feel what expectant mothers and their loved ones are experiencing, so they can react with calm, soothing, and reassuring words when they’re needed.
The scene in a delivery room can be hectic and stressful, especially if there are complications during labor. This is why labor and delivery nurses must be able to remain cool and under control at all times. They should be emotionally stable and not overly impacted by moment-to-moment developments, even as they remain sympathetic to what expectant mothers are experiencing. Their steadiness can have a positive influence on their patients, while increasing the confidence level of their co-workers.
Hopefully this guide on how to become a labor and delivery nurse has helped you to make up your mind, or at least come a little closer to progressing down your path to a brighter future. This guide on how to become a delivery nurse was created to help you make the decision more easily and to have a better understanding of what this career will entail, should you embark on it. And if you know anyone who might be considering becoming a labor and delivery nurse or is wondering how many years of college to be a labor and delivery nurse, feel free to direct them to this guide in the hopes that it will assist them as well. We wish you much success!
You might also consider learning about how to become a lactation consultant, a great alternative to nursing for those who love babies and motherhood.