Behind almost every mother, there is a nurse – the one who helped her through the birth of her child.
Labor and delivery (L&D) is one of the most recognizable nursing specialties, and one that many aspiring nurses wish to pursue. Like any other specialty, however, it has its challenges and rewards.
“We don’t just rock babies all day,” said Crystal Paunan, MSN, RNC, an instructor at Chamberlain’s Addison campus and nurse with 10 years of experience in labor and delivery. “There’s a lot more to it than that.”
Here are seven things to know about L&D nursing:
1. You build strong connections with your patients.
Nurses in other specialties often juggle multiple patients, but L&D nurses are typically assigned to one actively laboring mother at a time. This set-up helps foster a strong bond between the patient and the nurse.
“The doctor or midwife is not there all the time,” said Paunan. “The person that’s their go-to is that labor and delivery nurse.”
L&D nurses generally work 12-hour shifts, but because of the strong connection that forms, it’s not unusual for them to stay past their shift change just to be there when the baby is born.
2. Assertiveness is a must – and so is a sense of collaboration.
Things change quickly during labor, and the unexpected can arise. L&D nurses need to be on their toes and serve as a strong patient advocate. That’s made somewhat easier by the fact that they get to know their patients so well.
“Nursing students are very impressed when the see the relationship between the L&D nurse and the doctor or midwife,” she said. “It’s a team approach, not hierarchical. It’s not ‘Doctor, what should I do?’ It’s ‘This is my patient, this is what I need.’”
3. You need an open mind.
L&D nurses will care for many different kinds of patients – teen moms, older moms, women who’ve undergone fertility treatments, even women who are incarcerated.
“In our specialty, it’s important to remember that not every family is made the same way, and not every family has the same things,” said Paunan. A nurse must be able to extend the same caring and empathy to all patients, no matter what the circumstances are.
4. It’s not always happy.
“I always tell people that it’s 99% good stuff,” said Paunan. “But when it’s bad, it’s really bad because you’re dealing with the loss of a baby or the loss of a mother.”
L&D nurses may be tasked with helping usher in a new life, but they must also be versed in end-of-life issues. Even during those moments, however, the nurse has a crucial role to play.
“The connections with your patients can still be deep, because you’re there for someone during probably one of the most difficult times in their life.”
5. You’ve got options.
Like caring for mothers and babies, but not sure if L&D suits your personality? There are several related positions that might be more up your alley.
Maybe you prefer a slower-paced environment with opportunities for patient education. Post-partum (or mother-baby) nursing might be right for you. Are you all about the babies? Try neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nursing. You can even continue your education and become a Certified Nurse-Midwife. (See below.)
6. You can take the next step.
With additional education and certification, you can take on a higher level of responsibility during labor and delivery. Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) do much of the work that an obstetrician would do during labor (albeit with a more holistic, woman-focused philosophy of care).
According to the American Midwifery Certification Board, there are some 13,000 CNMs in the United States. Forget the stereotypes about midwives only attending home births – in 2012, almost 95 percent of CNM/certified midwife–attended births took place in hospitals.
That’s not all they do. CNMs can also serve as primary care providers for women throughout the lifespan, from the teenage years to menopause and beyond. They give annual exams, write prescriptions and can even treat intimate partners for sexually transmitted diseases. For more information, visit the American College of Nurse-Midwives.
7. It’s amazing.
“You’re there not only when a baby comes into the world – you’re there at the creation of a family,” said Paunan.
“You get a picture taken with you giving the baby’s first bath. You know that’s going into a baby book and that kid’s going to see your face when he’s older. Those are those cool moments when you realize ‘this is why I do this.’”