Labor and delivery nurses are essential in supporting individuals giving birth in the hours leading up to delivery, during delivery, and in the immediate hours after birth. These nurses take on responsibilities and tasks, including:
- charting a patient's obstetric history
- administering medications
- providing care and guidance during birthing
- performing vaginal exams
- monitoring contractions and fetal heartbeat
- checking newborns' heart rates
- educating parents, and more.
While many registered nurses say it is one of the most rewarding nursing specialties, it can also be challenging due to numerous factors. Keep reading to learn more about the challenges of being an L&D nurse and to hear from nurses on whether they think this is a stressful or hard specialty.
What are the Challenges of Being a Labor and Delivery Nurse?
The challenges of being a labor and delivery nurse include the following:
- Working with individuals who are highly stressed or anxious, as this is one of the most important moments of their life, can be challenging. Patients may be verbally abusive or aggressive towards nurses or other medical staff in rare circumstances, although this will be rare. As a nurse, you must familiarize yourself with your workplace's policy on harassment and abuse from patients, document any concerning or negative experiences, and seek support.
- Labor and delivery nurses must constantly monitor both birthing individuals and their babies. Nurse Michelle Flowers says childbirth "is either one of the best or worst times in their [a patient's] life course. There is no in-between. It requires a consistent state of awareness of constantly changing circumstances to help ensure optimal outcomes. It is ever-changing, blending multiple service lines into one, requiring a persistent focus on skill sets. It is exhilarating."
- Labor and delivery nurses witness discrepancies in healthcare based on factors such as race and socioeconomic status. Nurse Karen Kolega explains this challenging reality, which marginalizes the most vulnerable and impacts their health outcomes. "I worked in an obstetrics public health clinic during the time I was in nursing school. I loved working with women and children. Yet, the issues of access to care and disparities in care were readily apparent, and I wanted to be part of the solution of bringing excellence in OB care to all members of my community."
Keep reading to learn more about other challenges, including the pace of work, dealing with loss, and self-care as a labor and delivery nurse.
What's The Working Pace for L&D Nursing Jobs?
Some deliveries are over in minutes, while others can take hours and hours, during which support by health professionals is critical during the excruciatingly long process for the individual giving birth.
Nurse Joanne Fullerton says the fast pace of labor and delivery nursing drew her into the profession, as the situation can take a dramatic turn at any given moment.
"On the first day of my OB [obstetrics] rotation, I was assigned a nurse to follow with a patient was that almost ready to deliver. I was in the room with her while she was pushing. A little bit later, my instructor walked in because the FHR (Fetal Heart Rate) was going down. Forceps were applied for a short time, and then we were off to the OR [operating room] for a c/section," she explains.
"In those few short, what felt like minutes, but I'm sure was longer, I was hooked. I distinctly remember standing in the back of the OR, turning to my instructor, and saying, 'This is what I'm going to do!' The role of the labor nurse seemed so different than any other nursing role I had seen so far. You are an ED (Emergency Department) [nurse], ED (Emergency Department) nurse, a bedside nurse, an OR nurse, a PACU nurse, a baby nurse."
Nurse Amy Hood, who explains what a day in her life is like as a labor and delivery nurse, says that in this specialty, birthing circumstances can rapidly change. Nurses need to adapt quickly and provide emotional support to patients, too, as they experience unexpected bumps along the journey of childbirth.
"This particular day, I am assigned to a labor patient who has been through a very long induction process. A few hours after starting my shift, the decision is made to go back to the operating room for a C-section. This means a lot of quick preparation to get the patient back to the OR (operating room) in a timely manner while still providing comfort and reassurance to the patient and her partner since this is the last thing they had envisioned in their birth story," she says.
How to Deal with Loss as a Labor and Delivery Nurse?
Being a labor and delivery nurse comes with some incredibly challenging moments on the job, such as experiencing the loss of a birthing patient or baby.
Nurse Lisa Steele says: "We all know that labor and delivery are not all balloons and laughter, smiles and joy, kisses, and cuddles. There can also be tremendous strength through unimaginable sadness. Labor nurses touch lives during the best time anyone can experience and during the worst."
Despite these times of sadness, Nurse Lisa says she doesn't regret her choice to become a labor and delivery (L&D) nurse, saying: "The bond a woman develops with her labor nurse is a bond forever. Only another labor nurse will ever truly understand the pull of L&D on our hearts. I haven't regretted one second of my career in L&D."
Nurse Joanne Fullerton echoes these statements, saying she has "loved every second of it, even the sad stuff that no one thinks happens in L&D."
How Does One Prioritize Self-Care as an L&D Nurse?
Working as a labor and delivery nurse is a rewarding career that enables nurses to witness the miracle of life, provide care to patients during critical moments, and feel the satisfaction of making a difference in the lives of parents and babies. However, as with all registered nursing specialties, it has challenges and can be difficult, particularly if nurses have witnessed devastating losses on the job.
On-going self-care is critical to your wellness as a labor and delivery nurse. Whether you're looking for self-care tips for nurses or want to learn how to avoid burnout on the job, Nursa's blog is packed with helpful advice. By nature, nurses are empathetic and supportive caregivers who care deeply about others and want their patients to have the best possible experience. While you're working daily to provide high-quality and compassionate care for others, don't forget to care for yourself.
Final Thoughts | Is Working as an L&D Nurse a Hard Job?
Working as a labor and delivery nurse certainly has its challenges—from being in a fast pace work environment where you need to constantly monitor patients and help make quick decisions to dealing with a tragic loss. It can be challenging, hard, and stressful. However, many nurses still say they never regretted their decision to become labor and delivery nurses and still get teary-eyed on the job, even years later.
To learn about what labor and delivery nurses do or how to become a labor and delivery nurse, check out Nursa's information-packed guide on labor and delivery nursing, which covers all thing labor and delivery nursing, from L&D nurses salary, nurse certification for this specialty, tips for new labor and delivery nurses, and more.
Looking to pick up a high paying, per diem shift as a labor and delivery nurse? Download the Nursa app today to browse nearby opportunities.