What to Know About Labor and Delivery Nurses

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on May 04, 2022
4 min read

Labor and delivery (L&D) nurses are licensed medical professionals who support obstetricians, midwives, expectant parents, and newborns. A labor and delivery nurse may administer medication, provide patient education, and monitor a patient’s vital signs both during and after childbirth

Labor and delivery nurses have a wide range of responsibilities. They typically care for multiple pregnant, laboring, or postpartum patients at one time. Labor and delivery nurses are a vital part of a childbirth care team and often spend more hands-on time with a laboring patient than any other medical professional. They’re trained to monitor both the mother and baby and recognize potential problems that can happen during or after childbirth.

L&D nurses assist during both vaginal births and c-sections. Labor and delivery nurses may also provide postpartum or newborn care depending on the hospital. In addition to clinical labor and delivery nurse responsibilities, they often act as labor coaches, providing hands-on support and pain management techniques for a laboring patient. 

Labor and delivery nurses are experts in pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, and newborn care. They often teach classes for hospitals or community organizations on childbirth or parenting skills. 

A labor and delivery nurse's job description may include:

  • Patient intake
  • Charting the patient’s obstetric history
  • Monitoring a birthing patient’s vital signs
  • Monitoring fetal heartbeat and contractions
  • Administering medications 
  • Placing catheters and IV lines if needed
  • Performing vaginal exams to measure cervical dilation
  • Preparing tools for a physician or midwife
  • Assisting in the operating room for a cesarean delivery
  • Patient education
  • Emotional support for laboring parents
  • Monitoring a postpartum patient in recovery
  • Determining Apgar scores for a newborn baby

A typical labor and delivery nurse education requires two to four years of college-level study. Labor and delivery nurses must be registered nurses with an associate's or bachelor’s degree in nursing. They’re often required to hold a basic life support certification and an advanced cardiac life support certification.

Experienced labor and delivery nurses may pursue additional specialized education to earn an RNC-OB. An RNC-OB nurse must have 2000 hours of professional labor and delivery experience and specialized training in the care of hospitalized pregnant women.

Some labor and delivery nurses choose to pursue other certifications. This allows them to provide specialized support to their patients. For example, an IBCLC certification trains labor and delivery nurses and other professionals to provide clinical breastfeeding support.

If a labor and delivery nurse chooses to pursue graduate-level education in obstetrics and gynecology or women’s health, they may become a labor and delivery nurse practitioner. These nurses take on more clinical responsibilities than a typical labor and delivery nurse and can prescribe medications.

Other nurses who work in labor and delivery include:

  • NICU nurses that provide care for premature infants
  • Neonatal nurses that specialize in newborns and infants less than a month old
  • Perinatal nurses that specialize in pregnant and postpartum patients
  • Certified nurse-midwives
  • Labor and delivery nurse anesthetists 

A labor and delivery nurse's salary depends on the nurse’s location, experience, and education. In 2021, the median salary for a registered nurse in the U.S. was $77,600 annually.

Labor and delivery nurses who go on to earn advanced degrees to become nurse practitioners, anesthetists, or certified nurse-midwives can expect to make a median salary of $123,780 a year.

Do you enjoy working with parents and newborns? Do you have empathy, good communication skills, and enjoy teamwork? If so, you may enjoy working as a labor and delivery nurse. L&D nurses generally report high job satisfaction and often get to work with families during one of the happiest days of their lives. 

However, labor and delivery nursing can also be very stressful. L&D nurses work with families experiencing traumatic events such as stillbirth or pregnancy complications. In a 2021 study published in The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, almost 85% of the nurses surveyed reported seeing a traumatic birth, and 35% met the criteria for secondary traumatic stress.

Registered nurses are expected to remain in demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for L&D nurses will grow 9% between 2020 and 2030.

Labor and delivery nurses are some of the most memorable healthcare providers. Almost every parent remembers the nurse that was there when they gave birth. As a labor and delivery nurse, you have the opportunity to make a lasting impact on a family at one of the most important moments of their lives. 

Some qualities that help make a good labor and delivery nurse include: 

  • Patience: Labor and delivery nurses work with patients during intense moments. You may be helping a laboring woman through the intense contractions of transition, reassuring a family during an unplanned c-section, or assisting at a premature birth. Labor and delivery nurses need to have the patience to work in high-emotion situations.
  • Adaptability: Labor and delivery is unpredictable. It can require you to quickly adapt to changes in plans and make critical decisions. Labor and delivery nurses work with a wide variety of people of different ages, backgrounds, and situations. They also typically care for more than one patient at a time.
  • Empathy: Labor and delivery nurses often act as labor coaches and a source of emotional support, so the ability to build trust with patients is essential.
  • Respect: Patients may have cultural, religious, or personal views around childbirth that you don’t share, and you’ll still need to provide them with high-quality care and patient education.
  • Love for learning: Labor and delivery often requires ongoing education and certification. You may take specialized courses in fetal monitoring, managing preterm labor, breastfeeding support, postpartum depression, pain management, and more.