A labor and delivery (L&D) department in a hospital, sometimes referred to as the obstetrics department, is a specialized unit that provides care to pregnant individuals during labor, childbirth, and the immediate postpartum period.
If you already know what labor and delivery nurses do and are considering specializing in this nursing specialty, this blog post will provide an overview of working in this hospital unit, so you can know what to expect from your work environment. In this post, you'll learn about who works in a labor and delivery unit and what this unit looks like. Keep reading for an inside perspective on this work setting.
Who Works in a Labor & Delivery Department in a Hospital?
An L&D hospital department is staffed by a team of health professionals, including the following:
Labor and delivery nurses:
- A labor & delivery nurse is responsible for monitoring the health of individuals giving birth and infants and offering immediate postpartum care. These nurses provide direct care during labor and childbirth by monitoring the progress of labor, administering medications, assisting with labor positions, and providing emotional support.
- Midwives provide comprehensive care throughout pregnancy, labor, and birth. They also extend their care to newborn babies during the initial weeks after birth, including assistance with breastfeeding.
- An obstetrician is a medical doctor who focuses on delivering babies and providing comprehensive care to individuals throughout pregnancy and postpartum. They are trained to address labor and delivery complications and perform surgical procedures, such as cesarean sections.
- A sonographer is a healthcare professional specializing in medical imaging who conducts ultrasound scans. Obstetric ultrasounds serve various purposes, such as confirming pregnancy and aiding in determining the conception date. They are also employed to identify multiple pregnancies and detect ectopic pregnancies, in which the fetus develops outside the uterus.
- Anesthesiologists play a vital role in administering pain relief and assisting in case of complications. While midwives can offer certain pain relief medications, anesthesiologists can administer stronger anesthetic medications, such as epidurals.
- Lactation consultants are healthcare professionals who specialize in supporting and guiding individuals with breastfeeding.
What's the Typical Workflow of an L&D RN?
An L&D nurse, like many other nurses, may work a twelve-hour shift, requiring them to be changed into their scrubs and briefed on their patients before their shift starts, which means factoring in commute time, time to get changed, and about ten minutes to get handover notes and information from the nurse who is wrapping up the previous shift.
While each day on the job will be different, you’ll likely start your shift off by being briefed on the situation. Which patients will you be caring for? What does the patient want or have in their birth plan? Have there been any complications or anything else you need to be aware of? What have the doctors or other medical staff asked you to keep an eye on? Is the patient comfortable and doing alright? You’ll understand the patient’s medical history, birth plan, and what needs to happen next.
You and the outgoing nurse may choose to have this conversation in front of the patient, allowing them to participate and clarify, or you may have this conversation outside the patient’s room to give them privacy and allow them to rest.
Once you’re briefed on the patient’s condition, you’ll typically introduce yourself to the patient and explain that you’ll be taking care of them, write your name down in their room where they can easily see it, and inform them of how to contact you in case they need support and you’re not in the room.
You’ll also assess the patient, including listening to their heart and lungs, monitoring their contractions, checking their IV, assessing their pain, and more.
You can also answer questions, provide reassurance, and give updates to the patient’s partner, family member, or anyone else who is there for support. Depending on what stage of labor and delivery they are in, you may be required to provide painkillers, perform a cervical check, or support them as they push. You’ll have a team of other medical professionals nearby and easily accessible, including family doctors, obstetricians, and even doulas in some cases.
At the end of your shift, you’ll have to do the same hand-off you received at the start of yours. You’ll need to prepare a brief on every patient’s condition so you can inform the incoming nurse of what they need to know, and be sure to inform your patients as well so they know what to expect as they’re going through one of the most incredible, challenging, and life-changing events of their lives.
Do Patients Usually Have Special Labor and Delivery Gowns?
When patients are giving birth, they are usually provided with a standard unisex hospital gown with a slit at the back—although gowns with flowers and other designs are not uncommon. These are often the same gowns given to all other hospital patients in triage. Some hospitals provide new one-size-fits-all disposable gowns, whereas others use washable cloth gowns. Regardless of the type of gown patients receive, they don’t need to worry about keeping their hospital gowns clean or in other decent condition, as they’ll inevitably get their share of wear and tear during delivery or any other medical procedure.
However, patients may not have to wear this gown during labor and delivery if it’s not their preference. Some patients may choose to bring their own gown or other comfortable outfit, which is generally permitted so long as medical staff can assist them during delivery. While the average hospital gown is convenient as the hospital provides it for free, a patient may prefer to wear something more comfortable or something that reflects their personality and style, such as a large t-shirt or a birthing skirt. These personalized gowns can even help boost birthing parents’ confidence since many people feel good when they look good.
Final Thoughts on Working in a Hospital Labor & Delivery Unit
Working as a labor and delivery nurse is an exciting job where you'll witness the miracle of birth. Now that you understand the ins and outs of what a labor and delivery unit is in a hospital, including who works there and what the unit looks like, you may want to check out Nursa's information-packed guide on OB/GYN nursing to learn about becoming an OB/GYN nurse, which includes labor and delivery nursing. You'll learn about labor and delivery nurse salary, certification, whether this specialty is hard or stressful, and more. Looking to pick up high-paying per diem shifts as a labor and delivery nurse? Download the Nursa app today to browse nearby opportunities.