Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Labor and Delivery Nurse
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. Labor and delivery nurses, usually considered a subset of obstetrics (OB) nursing, are specifically tasked with guiding women through childbirth and caring for the child immediately after.
With all the nursing specialties out there, it can be confusing to know what requirements there are 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, how to become one and what to expect once you’ve made it.
Tips for how to become a labor and delivery nurse
If you’re interested in becoming a labor and delivery nurse, you’ll first want a road map of how to get there. We’ve asked experienced L&D nurses to provide their tips and advice for getting started.
1. Become an RN
As with any nursing specialty, the first step is becoming a licensed registered nurse. Your required 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.
By earning an ADN or a BSN, you’ll be on track to become an RN. The trouble is deciding which certification to earn. This decision largely depends on what fits your life at this time. Many nurses choose to earn an ADN in order to enter the workplace sooner with the option to enroll in an RN to BSN program later.
Labor and delivery RN Mary Thompson says the hospital she works at prefers labor and delivery nurses to have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). “You can apply if you have an ADN; however, you would be required to get a BSN within a set number of years determined by the hospital,” Thompson explains. Your best bet is to check with the hospital you’re interested in and talk to labor and delivery nurses in your area to see what their specific requirements and preferences are before choosing your educational path.
2. Reflect on why you’re interested in this area
There are so many reasons to become a labor and delivery nurse. From experiencing the joy of a new life to being a major source of support for a new, soon-to-be-mom, you’re convinced labor and delivery is the place for you. The harder part is convincing a potential employer. Taking some time to reflect on why you’re so interested in the role and what has led you to that, can help keep you motivated while taking tough classes like chemistry and anatomy, and will also help you answer interviewers’ questions. The more you reflect and talk about your passion, the more natural speaking about it will become and in an interview that just might push you over as the top candidate.
3. Consider investing in continuing education courses or additional training
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.
Thompson says additional continuing education courses may allow you to obtain a certification, which helps show potential employers that labor and delivery is where you want to be. The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) offers courses to help you prepare for certification examinations, including:
- Fetal Heart Monitoring
- Critical Care Obstetrics
- Post-Birth Warning Signs
These classes don’t always come cheap, so it’s worth it to inquire whether the hospital or hospitals 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.
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 childbirth. 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!”
Reach out to any nurses you know well enough and whose hospitals encourage their staff to take on observers. Or feel free to reach out to a hospital’s HR department for contacts and necessary paperwork. If you have the time, many hospitals take on volunteers in various departments, which can be a great way to build up clinical hours and show your interest on your resume.
5. 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.
What to expect as a labor and delivery nurse
Now that you’re more familiar with the path to becoming a labor and delivery nurse, let’s take a closer look at what the actual job entails.
1. 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 nursing schooling 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.
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!”
2. 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.
3. Find your inner strength
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’re confident in your inner strength, labor and delivery is likely 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. How do you get into this unique nursing specialization?
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 a registered nurse. If you’re still not sure which degree path is the best fit for your nursing career plans, check out our article “ADN vs. BSN: Your Guide to Help You Decide on a Nursing Degree.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in 2016. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2019.