Welcoming new life into the world both fascinates and inspires you. You’ve been thinking about taking on a career that allows you to be at the helm of caring for both the mothers and newborns who experience the strenuous and miraculous process of labor and delivery. You’re interested in becoming a labor and delivery nurse, but you’re not sure how to make that dream into a reality.
With all the nursing specialties out there, it can be confusing to know what it takes to become a labor and delivery nurse. There’s not one single path to your dream nursing career, but there are some important steps you can take to ensure you’re heading in the right direction.
Read on to learn more about a career as a labor and delivery nurse, tips on getting there and what to expect once you’ve made it.
Tips for becoming a labor and delivery nurse
As with any nursing specialty, the first step is becoming a licensed registered nurse. Your training will help you build a foundation of universal nursing skills. From there, you’ll have to go above and beyond to narrow your focus on labor and delivery.
Consider these tips from labor and delivery nurses to help you prepare:
1. Interview current nurses
It never hurts to be sure you’re pursuing the right field. Set up informational interviews with a few different labor and delivery nurses to learn more about what they do on a day-to-day basis. Even better, interview nurses at hospitals where you’re interested in working to hear more about what it took for them to land the job. This kind of insider insight can help clear up any misconceptions you have about the profession before you commit to pursuing it.
2. Educate yourself
Just because you’ve acquired a nursing degree and passed the NCLEX, doesn’t mean the learning is done. Going above and beyond to acquire specialized certification and take extra courses can help prepare you to become a labor and delivery nurse.
“Extra courses such as advance cardiac life support (ACLS), neonatal resuscitation program (NRP), and a fetal monitoring class from Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) would show that labor and delivery is where you want to be,” says labor and delivery RN Mary Thompson.
These classes don’t always come cheap, so it’s worth it to inquire if the hospital(s) where you’re applying will help foot the bill. “I have never paid for a class out of my own pocket that was a requirement for my job,” says Amanda Cotter, labor and delivery RN.
3. Join relevant associations
Consider joining the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses or the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). These associations offer valuable resources, education and events that will support you in your career. Your participation will also indicate to your future employer that you’re devoted to this facet of nursing.
Specialty nursing associations like AWHONN can also be a great place to network with fellow L&D nurses and gain opportunities for personal and professional development—both of which could help you with job advancement and leadership opportunities down the road.
4. Shadow a nurse
You can conduct informational interviews and acquire some extra education, but there’s nothing more valuable than having a front-row seat as medical staff assist both mother and baby with the miracle of child birth. By shadowing a labor and delivery nurse and spending time “on the floor,” you’ll gain a new perspective of your future career. Not only is this a great learning experience, it can be a huge confirmation that you’re pursuing the nursing specialty that’s right for you.
“I would encourage a shadowing experience and completing capstone in that department,” Cotter says. “So much can be learned in those experiences!”
What to expect as a labor and delivery nurse
Now that you know a bit more about steps you can take toward a career in labor and delivery nursing, consider what these professionals have to say about what to expect when you actually land the job.
1. Not all hospitals prefer the same degree
Thompson says the hospital at which she works prefers labor and delivery nurses to have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). “You can apply if you have an ADN (associate degree in nursing); however, you would be required to get a BSN within a set number of years determined by the hospital,” Thompson explains.
However, Cotter was able to land the gig with an ADN, though she plans to continue her education and eventually earn her Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Your best bet is to check with the hospital you’re interested in to see what their specific requirements and preferences are before choosing your educational path.
2. Be prepared for on-the-job training
Anticipate some intense on-the-job training once you’ve achieved your nursing degree and landed your dream job. Since many nursing programs don’t dig deep into specialties, most of your specific labor and delivery training will likely come in this form. This may also include formal specialty courses, like fetal heart rate monitoring.
“My training was about six months on the job. Even after formal training was completed, I continued to have a mentor to use as a resource,” says Amy Hightower, MS, RN (Maternal Child Health CNS).
Cotter echoes the importance of this experience, saying: “I would say 90 percent of what I do and know came from on-the-job training. And I'm still learning!”
3. Don’t be intimidated by challenges
Just like any career, being a labor and delivery nurse will stretch and challenge you. Fetal monitoring is one such challenge that’s unique to labor and delivery.
“Fetal monitoring is challenging because it is a unique situation where you are watching a patient that you cannot physically see,” Hightower says. Though these and other challenges will arise during your time as a labor and delivery nurse, it’s important to persevere and learn from difficult situations without becoming discouraged.
4. It takes a strong individual
Labor and delivery nursing is not always the warm fuzzies of watching a mother meet her newborn for the first time. There are elements of the job that can be high-stress and truly heartbreaking. But if you know your inner strength is solid, it’s probably just the place for you.
Thompson describes the work environment as high-adrenaline, high-stress and fast-paced. “You have to be able to switch gears very quickly,” she explains. “You must be able to work well with your co-workers and be able to advocate for your patient.
Life as a labor and delivery nurse isn’t always easy, but there’s no doubt it’s a rewarding and impactful career.
Take the first step
Now that you know what goes into becoming a labor and delivery nurse, it’s time to take the first step toward your dream: becoming an RN. As mentioned above, this title can be earned by obtaining an associate or a bachelor’s degree – it’s up to you to choose which path you take.
Learn more about which is right for you in our article: ADN vs. BSN: Your Guide to Help You Decide on a Nursing Degree.