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Want to become a labor and delivery nurse? Labor and delivery nurses play crucial roles in the birthing process, and they can make higher salaries than registered nurses (RNs) with an average hourly pay of $32.09 or $68,720 a year.
Labor and delivery nurses work with doctors and other nurses at hospitals and birthing centers to keep pregnant individuals and babies healthy and safe. This is all the more important now since maternal mortality rates have jumped from 17.4% to 23.8% between 2018-2020.
It takes a college degree and an RN license to become a labor and delivery nurse. Find out how to become a labor and delivery nurse, the education needed, and get answers to frequently asked questions.
What Is a Labor and Delivery Nurse?
Births in the United States rose by 1% from 2020-2021. Roughly 3.66 million babies were born during that time. At birthing centers and hospitals, labor and delivery nurses use their clinical training to keep pregnant persons and their newborns safe during labor, birth, and postpartum.
Because each patient's needs differ, labor and delivery nurses work with doctors to create culturally relevant and age-specific plans of care. Labor and delivery nurses have specialized clinical duties such as monitoring fetal heart tones, identifying risks for pregnant individuals and newborns, and assessing the progress of labor.
They also might assist in the operating room during cesarean sections, administer medications, and provide emotional support.
Labor and delivery nurses may work during the day, night, or mid-day shift in maternity wards or as travel nurses. In every setting, labor and delivery nurses keep in communication with doctors and families, especially during a life-threatening emergency.
Steps to Becoming a Labor and Delivery Nurse
Becoming a labor and delivery nurse requires a two-year or four-year college degree. Labor and delivery nurses also need an RN license and clinical experience. Employers also may request current certification in basic life support and advanced cardiac life support, common credentials for all RNs.
Earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree.
An ADN degree serves as the minimum degree needed and the quickest pathway to become a labor and delivery nurse. To take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), nursing students must earn an ADN or a BSN degree.
BSN degrees, which require 2-4 years depending on prior college experience, can increase a nurse's earning power. A higher degree can create opportunities to advance in nursing, such as becoming a nurse practitioner, which requires a graduate degree.
Pass the NCLEX to Receive RN Licensure
After completing an ADN or a BSN degree, graduates can take the NCLEX-RN exam. How soon they can take the NCLEX exam depends on the state. Generally, graduates take the NCLEX, a computer-adaptive exam, about 45 days after graduating from nursing school.
Administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, the NCLEX-RN tests a nurse's competency and readiness to practice in a clinical setting.
Gain Experience in Obstetric Nursing
Nursing students complete clinical experiences, often doing rotations in specialty areas of nursing, such as obstetrics. These clinical rotations can lead to full-time jobs. Students also make job connections through faculty and instructors.
After graduation, students can secure jobs in maternity wards of hospitals. Labor and delivery nurses need clinical experience in obstetrics to earn certification.
Consider Earning a Specialty Certification
RNs get certified to validate their expertise in a specialty area of nursing. Employers prefer certified nurses who have completed required clinical hours in their specialty area and passed an exam.
Certifications can increase a nurse's job prospects and the ability to negotiate a higher RN salary. Many certifications help nurses to change healthcare settings and secure leadership positions.
The National Certification Corporation offers certification exams that include inpatient obstetric nursing and low-risk neonatal intensive care nursing. Maternal newborn nursing, neonatal neurointensive care, and obstetric and neonatal quality and safety are also options.
Featured Online RN-to-BSN Programs
Labor and Delivery Nurse Education
Labor and delivery nurses need compassion, strong communication, and critical thinking skills. Becoming a labor and delivery nurse also requires graduating from an accredited nursing program and passing the NCLEX-RN exam.
People who want a quick path to become a labor and delivery nurse can get an ADN degree in 1-2 years. Graduates who hold an ADN from an accredited program can use their credits to later earn a BSN.
An ADN serves as the minimum requirement to take the NCLEX-RN exam and get licensure, but some employers prefer labor and delivery nurses with a BSN.
A high school diploma or its equivalent; math and reading courses and a writing proficiency exam; minimum 2.5 GPA; prerequisite courses
60-70 credits in developmental psychology, microbiology, human anatomy and physiology, pharmacological, family health nursing, and health internships
Time to Complete
Clinical training to monitor and care for patients; using catheters and tube feeding systems; dispensing medication; lab experience in a healthcare facility
A BSN degree suits nurses who have earned a nursing diploma or an ADN and want career advancement. BSN degrees take about four years, but licensed RNs can also enter RN-to-BSN degree programs and graduate quicker.
BSN nurses have higher pay brackets and more career opportunities than nurses with ADN degrees. For example, BSN nurses can earn higher degrees to become advanced practice registered nurses.
Many employers and professional nursing organizations also recommend hiring nurses who hold higher degrees and training.
Minimum 2.5 or higher GPA; high school diploma, its equivalent, or an ADN degree; resume; clinical or volunteer experience; letters of reference; an essay
Biomedical statistics and research; nursing fundamentals; physical assessment in nursing; pharmacology; leadership; community health; medical-surgical nursing; psychiatric and mental health nursing
Time to Complete
Critical thinking; evidence-based practice; clinical assessments and population health skills; information management; patient care technology; leadership and management
Labor and Delivery Nurse Licensure and Certification
Labor and delivery nurses need an RN license to practice. Each state has different RN requirements to maintain an RN license. Nurses need to complete about 25-30 board-approved contact hours of continuing education for nurses to renew their RN license.
Employers do not require certification, but having credentials can boost a nurse's job prospects and salary potential.
Possible certifications for labor and delivery nurses include inpatient obstetric nursing, electronic fetal monitoring, and low-risk neonatal intensive care nursing. To be eligible for certification, nurses must have a current RN license and about two years of nursing experience, which amounts to roughly 2,000 clinical hours in the specialty area.
Working as a Labor and Delivery Nurse
Colleges offer a lot of career services for nurses. During clinical rotations in nursing school, students can work in the obstetrics unit at their local hospital and meet labor and delivery unit nurse managers. Local healthcare facilities, clinics, and hospitals also offer volunteer experience for nursing students. These experiences can lead to job offers. Additionally, faculty at nursing schools can provide recommendations and job references.
Professional nursing organizations like the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses also post job listings for labor and delivery positions. Labor and delivery nurses secure careers in hospital maternity units, health clinics, or as travel nurses.
Labor and delivery nurses earn an average hourly pay of $29.76 in the first 1-4 years of their career and an average of about $39.95 per hour after 20 years or more in nursing, according to Payscale in July 2022.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Labor and Delivery Nurse
How many years does it take to become a labor and delivery nurse?
Becoming a labor and delivery nurse takes about 2-4 years. The exact time line depends on the degree earned. Certification requires an additional 1-2 years of work experience.
What skills do you need to be a labor and delivery nurse?
Labor and delivery nurses need compassion, patience, and the clinical skills to care for pregnant individuals and their newborns. They also need solid critical thinking for nurses and communication skills to deliver information to physicians, patients, and family members.
Do labor and delivery nurses do C-sections?
No. Labor and delivery nurses do not perform cesarean sections. The attending physician performs planned and emergency C-sections, while labor and delivery nurses assist in the operating room and oversee patient recovery.
What is the difference between a labor and delivery nurse and a nurse midwife?
Nurse midwives work intimately with pregnant persons before childbirth to create birthing plans, often delivering babies outside of healthcare facilities. Becoming a nurse midwife requires a graduate degree and certification to work, unlike labor and delivery nurses who can work with only an ADN degree.
Page last reviewed June 28, 2022
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