Labor and Delivery Nurse Career Guide
The need for nurses in the U.S. has never been greater. Labor and delivery nurses, who assist in the safe delivery of babies and care for new mothers, are in particularly high demand, as we saw a rise in newborns in 2021. After all, nearly 3.7 million babies were born in the U.S. last year. That’s a lot of deliveries that need the care and expertise of labor and delivery nurses.
Labor and delivery nurses, also known as “L&D nurses,” help deliver healthy babies and get mothers through the process of pregnancy safely. These nurses have the complex job of advocating for both the mother and her yet-to-be-born baby, for which they must develop a finely honed set of ethics and a deep understanding of the relationship between the two patients.
Labor and delivery nurses care for mothers during labor and childbirth and provide the infant with initial postpartum care under the supervision of a nurse-midwife or physician. L&D nurses are particularly good at communication and understanding the parent's psychological and medical needs. They also need to be empathic and able to make quick decisions. Like all nurses, L&D nurses must remain calm when patient tensions run high and discomfort grows during labor, and they often coach family members and spouses in how to bring comfort to their laboring partners.
L&D nurses are quite similar to nurse-midwives, as they are both registered nurses, but a nurse-midwife has more advanced training and certification. Nurse-midwives often also work with expectant mothers throughout pregnancy and can act as supervisors to L&D nurses.
Labor and delivery nurses work with obstetricians and gynecologists to help pregnant women deliver their babies. They’re skilled at creating comfortable, safe environments for expectant mothers throughout pregnancy and labor. L&D nurses create a close bond with their patients in order to provide them with unique, individualized support. Unlike many other types of nurses, they keep a low case load so that they can give each mother the time and dedication they need throughout their journey.
L&D nurses have many important responsibilities, including:
- Monitoring and timing contractions during labor and delivery.
- Providing mothers with information on what to expect during different stages of pregnancy.
- Administering epidurals and other medications to help mothers manage pain in labor.
- Assisting the doctor in inducing labor.
- Monitoring the vital signs of the mother and the heart rate of the baby.
- Assessing potentially dangerous complications of medications commonly given during labor and delivery.
- Communicating with the doctor to provide timely and accurate information.
- Providing support, encouragement, and comfort throughout pregnancy and labor.
- Identifying complications and notifying the doctor.
- Preparing for cesarean (c-section) delivery, including emergency c-sections.
- Coaching mothers on breastfeeding and newborn care.
L&D nurses often work as generalists. However, they can choose to specialize in less common birth circumstances to work with specific groups of expectant mothers. Some specializations include:
- High-risk pregnancies
- Advanced maternal age
- Fetal development issues
- Cesarean section (C-section) birth
- Anesthetics and pharmacology
Labor and delivery nurses have important, unique roles in the healthcare industry. In order to practice in the field, they must be well educated and pass an exam. Keep reading to learn the necessary steps of becoming an L&D nurse.
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN).
- Pass the NCLEX-RN exam to get the RN license. You can take the exam and earn your RN license before you finish your BSN program.
- Gain work experience. Once you’ve earned your degree and passed the NCLEX, you’re eligible to work as an L&D nurse and you are free to begin your career.
- Consider advancing your career with a master’s degree in nursing (MSN). While you do not need an MSN to practice as an L&D nurse, pursuing one allows you to gain a deeper expertise in your field and access higher salaries and more job opportunities.
Nursing (Prelicensure) – B.S.
A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN...
A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you...
A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a baccalaureate-prepared nurse:
- Locations: offered in FL, IN, TX, MO, and UT only.
- Tuition: $6,430 for the first term, $7,616 for the remaining 4 terms. Each term is six-months. Prelicensure students can not accelerate and the program takes 2.5 years to complete.
WGU offers the prelicensure program in areas where we have partnerships with healthcare employers to provide practice sites and clinical coaches to help teach you and inspire you on your path to becoming a nurse.
If you don't live in one of our prelicensure states or don't qualify to apply, consider getting our Bachelor's Degree in Health Services Coordination instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also working directly with patients who need help.
Nursing (RN-to-BSN Online) – B.S.
An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking...
An online BSN degree program for registered...
An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added theoretical depth, employability, and respect that a bachelor's degree brings:
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With over 35,000 BSN alumni, this is one of WGU's most popular online degree programs. View our RN to BSN degree guide.
If you don't currently have an RN and don't qualify for your nursing prelicensure program, consider getting our Bachelor's Degree in Health Services Coordination instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry in a unique way.
Nursing – Education (BSN-to-MSN) – M.S.
A master's in nursing education program for nurses with BSNs....
A master's in nursing education program for...
A master's in nursing education program for nurses with BSNs.
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- Tuition: $4,367 per 6-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.
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- Nurse Educator
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Hospitals and other facilities need nurse educators. Earn your MSN – Education and step into a role inspiring and empowering caregivers.
No need to wait for spring or fall semester. It's back-to-school time at WGU year-round. Get started by talking to an Enrollment Counselor today, and you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of a bachelor's or master's degree—sooner than you might think!
Labor and delivery nurses have the unique opportunity to help bring new life into the world. As you can imagine, this takes a specific set of skills to do properly and safely. Some of the essential skills include:
- Medical skills: It’s important that L&D nurses have extensive medical skills, as they are responsible for administering medications, checking vitals, preparing for medical emergencies and identifying complications during the birthing process.
- Empathy: Having a baby can bring moments of pure joy and excitement, but sometimes there are complications and even tragedies, so it’s important that L&D nurses are equipped to empathize with the full spectrum of patient experiences.
- Teamwork: L&D nurses work on teams with nurse-midwives and physicians, and it’s important to the health and comfort of the patients that they work effectively with others.
- Communication with patients and other caregivers: Bringing a new human into the world is an inherently overwhelming experience, and it requires parents to absorb a lot of information quickly, so it’s the responsibility of the L&D nurse to be a very clear and effective communicator. Likewise, in the delivery room, L&D nurses must communicate well with other healthcare staff to ensure the birthing process runs smoothly.
- Ability to make quick decisions: Birthing plans can change quickly if faced with complications, such as the mother experiencing excessive bleeding or the baby’s umbilical cord being in a dangerous position, so L&D nurses must be able to remain calm and collected to help the physician make quick decisions and keep the patients safe.
How Much Does a Labor and Delivery Nurse Make?
PayScale reports an average salary for labor and delivery nurses of about $64,000 a year. However, these nurses can earn between $43,000 and $88,000, depending on experience, geographical location, and specialization.
Labor and delivery nurses with more than 10 years of experience typically earn $78,000 per year on average.
What is the Projected Job Growth?
Where Does a Labor and Delivery Nurse Work?
Labor and delivery nurses generally work in the delivery room or maternity ward of a hospital, but it’s also common for them to work in birthing centers, clinics, and teaching hospitals. Some L&D nurses work as travel nurses who can bring their expertise to areas of the country where there may be a need.