There are many specialty areas in the field of nursing. One registered nurse (RN) specialty in the hospital setting is labor and delivery (L&D). A career in L&D nursing is often considered to be fast-paced, patient-centric and multifaceted. L&D nurses care for women who are laboring, have complications of pregnancy or have recently given birth. These nurses work closely with mothers, fathers, other family members and health care professionals. Performing well in this demanding environment may require certain personality traits, skills, education and certification.
Skills and Characteristics
Characteristics an L&D nurse may want to exhibit include:
- Caring - Above all, L&D nurses care for their patients, which include the mother and newborn as well as the family.1 The birth of a child involves more than just the mother and newborn, and the nurse is the bridge between the patient and all of the health care professionals and family members who support the patient. Understanding that there are varying levels of emotional investment with every pregnancy from patient and family members is crucial. The L&D nurse should be sensitive to the feelings of all those involved, but most importantly, must care for the mother and newborn physically as well as emotionally.
- Stability - Though caring for the emotions of the patient is important, keeping one's own feelings in check is imperative. L&D nurses witness joyous moments as well as devastating losses, so the ability to separate professional experiences from personal life can be important. In instances of pain and grief, an L&D nurse must be able to remain emotionally detached while simultaneously expressing empathy and support. This balancing act is no easy feat, so nurses should have the ability to cope with stress.2
- Communication - L&D nurses should have impeccable communication skills, as they may need to be the voice of their patients. Nurses often serve as the main line of communication between the doctor and patient as well as the mediator between the patient and family. Mothers may experience extreme stress during labor, so nurses should keep this in mind when speaking with them. Additionally, the skill of conveying complex medical terminology to those who don't understand the jargon is required. L&D nurses should be able to offer instructions to new parents on how to care for their newborn, remembering that excited or stressed parents may need to be told the same thing several times.2
Having the personality traits that compliment labor and delivery is beneficial; however, there are educational requirements that must be met in order to become an L&D nurse. The first step is the pursuit of a nursing education. An associate degree in nursing (ADN), diploma in nursing or bachelor's degree in nursing must be obtained, although some employers may require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).2 While completing the required courses for a BSN, aspiring L&D nurses may consider taking electives related to an L&D specialty. While it's not a prerequisite, these electives can help prepare a nurse for their specific nursing specialty. Additionally, all nurses will also be required to complete supervised clinical experience working in the health care field.2
Certifications and Licenses
All practicing RNs must be licensed by their state’s licensing board. While there are no specific nursing programs that specialize in labor and delivery at the diploma, associate or baccalaureate degree level, any of the degrees qualifies graduates to sit for a state licensing exam. To become licensed, the RN candidate must graduate from an approved nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX) exam.2
The L&D nurse will be required to have education in neonatal resuscitation and fetal monitoring. In addition to this experience, labor and delivery nurses can take certification exams in other specialty areas after two years of specialty practice. These include intrapartum nursing, postpartum nursing, fetal monitoring and nursery.1
Job Market for Labor and Delivery Nurses
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 16% through 2024.3 Demand for this job, however, may be dependent upon the state and institution in which a nurse works. According to the BLS, in 2016, the states with the highest employment level for RNs included California, Texas, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania.4
What to Expect on a Day-to-Day Basis
The primary concerns of L&D nurses include the health and well-being of a mother and her newborn. These RNs can work in a variety of settings such as hospital L&D units, clinics, physician offices, maternity centers and birthing centers.1 Responsibilities in these workplaces can include:
- Providing education and support for expectant mothers during pregnancy as well as providing nursing care during labor and after the birth of the baby
- Monitoring the patient and baby and developing an individualized plan of care, as well as collaborating with physicians and other healthcare professionals
- Teach patients about topics related to women’s health and newborn care
- Evaluate effectiveness of care and meet the changing needs of the mother, newborn and family
- Provide psychosocial and emotional support to patients and family1
The L&D nursing career may not be for everyone. These nurses must be knowledgeable about their role during one of the most joyous, or sadly, potentially one of the most devastating experiences of a woman's life. This requires emotional stability and compassion.2 Those who choose the L&D path may find a meaningful and rewarding nursing career.
Earn Your BSN at CTU
Colorado Technical University (CTU) offers an RN-to-BSN program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (http://www.ccneaccreditation.org). Learn more about enrolling in CTU’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing.