How to Become a Labor and Delivery Nurse: Education & Licensure
Labor and delivery nurses play a critical role for pregnant women during and just after childbirth. As a nurse in a labor and delivery unit, you may monitor the vital signs of the mother and fetus and help communicate progress between the expectant mother and the care team. Depending on the medical facility, you may additionally provide care to the baby and mother up until discharge.
This guide will help give you an overview of how to become a labor and delivery nurse. While there are different ways to become a labor and delivery nurse, a common traditional path may include:
- Earning an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) in an accredited program.
- Passing the National Counseling Licensing Exam (NCLEX) and becoming a registered nurse (RN).
- Obtaining and maintaining state licensure.
- Optionally bolstering your credentials.
- An advanced degree.
What Does a Labor and Delivery Nurse Do?
Labor and delivery nurses remain with patients during active labor under direction of a doctor. While general “bedside” RNs work with a range of patients, labor and delivery nurses only work with expectant patients, often in a hospital.
Labor and delivery nurse job responsibilities often include:
- Conducting exams to determine labor progression.
- Coaching women through labor and delivery.
- Monitoring vital signs of the mom and infant.
- Administering medication.
- Assisting in medical emergencies during delivery.
Steps to Become a Labor and Delivery Nurse
The following sections outline the basic steps for how to become a labor and delivery nurse. While there are many possible paths to this career, the steps below are a common route to becoming a labor and delivery nurse. How long it takes depends on each person’s training program, pacing and state licensing procedures.
1. Obtain an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor’s in Nursing (BSN)
A first step to becoming a labor and delivery nurse is to earn a degree in nursing. It’s possible to become a registered nurse with an associate degree in nursing (ADN). This two-year degree prepares new nurses for careers in healthcare. Getting your ADN may be your first stop on the road to becoming a labor and delivery nurse.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) takes two more years of study, but it also makes more career paths possible. Employers may prioritize hiring BSN-educated nurses for labor and delivery roles. Having a BSN may lead to more responsibilities and leadership roles at work. And if you wish to earn an advanced degree later, you’ll need a BSN.
Hybrid and all-online degree programs are available for earning an ADN or BSN. Check that your state’s nursing board has approved your program of choice for becoming a labor and delivery nurse.
2. Pass the NCLEX Exam and Become a Registered Nurse (RN)
Once you have completed a degree in nursing, you’ll take the National Council Licensing Exam (NCLEX). Passing this test demonstrates your knowledge of medical competencies and that you’re ready to become a registered nurse. Completing an accredited BSN program can prepare you for this exam. This is a good reason for choosing an accredited program. The NCLEX credential is recognized nationwide.
The NCLEX exam is primarily composed of multiple-choice questions with four possible answers.
The next usual step in the journey to becoming a labor and delivery nurse is obtaining state licensure. Each state’s board of nursing is charged with assuring that nurses working in that state are prepared and qualified to deliver optimal care to patients. Licensure requirements may vary by type of nursing career and state requirements. Generally, applying for a state license requires:
- An RN advanced degree from an accredited nursing program.
- Official transcripts.
- A passing score on the NCLEX exam (each state board determines its own passing score).
- A completed application and possibly a background check and fingerprinting.
- Application fee.
- Recorded clinical experience.
State labor and delivery nurse licenses must be renewed about every two years. This process may require you to submit proof of hours worked and completion of continuing education hours. It’s important to research your state’s specific requirements.
4. Bolster Credentials With an (RNC-OB) Certification
To be more competitive in the labor and delivery nursing field, it can be helpful to earn credentials such as the inpatient obstetric nursing (RNC-OB) certification. This certification can prepare RNs to work with vulnerable expectant mothers who are hospitalized before, during or after giving birth.
With this certification, you may find yourself working closely with women with high-risk pregnancies, early births, cesarean section births and other challenges. Getting an RNC-OB credential demonstrates a high level of skill in fetal assessment, patient education, pregnancy complications, labor and delivery and newborn care.
5. Consider an Advanced Degree
If you want more training, specialization and career opportunities, consider getting an advanced nursing degree. Obtaining these positions can mean more responsibility and possibly higher salaries. When you’re ready to find a new job, you may be able to cast a wider net to find the right position for you.
With a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), numerous advanced nursing careers can open up, such as:
- Nurse Administrator
- Nurse Educator
- Advanced Practice Registered Nurse
- Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist
- Clinical Nurse Specialist
- Certified Nurse-Midwife
You can earn an MSN with on-campus and online MSN programs available to qualified candidates. An increasing number of colleges and universities offer accredited online MSN programs to help nurses gain new skills and enhance their job prospects, no matter where they live and work.
Labor and Delivery Nurse vs. Midwife
Not sure if you would rather be a labor and delivery nurse or a certified nurse-midwife (CNM)? There are some important differences between a labor and delivery nurse and a midwife. Understanding the key differences between the two may help you make the right decision for you.
Labor and delivery nurses and certified nurse midwives are both RNs. Both positions require specialized training and certification pertaining to the care of pregnant women. However, CNMs may care for women before and throughout the pregnancy term, while labor and delivery nurses are usually limited to providing care during labor and delivery and, sometimes, immediately after delivery. CNMs may advise women on proper nutrition and the emotional and physical aspects of pregnancy. They may additionally offer women’s primary healthcare services such as family planning and prenatal and postpartum care.
Labor and delivery nurses signal the doctor when it’s time for the baby’s arrival. A CNM must train and be certified as a certified nurse-midwife. Labor and delivery nurses are not required to have this certification. Nurse midwife programs are usually pursued through master’s in nursing programs.
It’s also worth noting that a CNM is different from a certified midwife (CM). CNMs are graduates of nurse-midwifery programs. CMs are not registered nurses, but typically have a more general healthcare degree or background and are graduates of midwifery programs.
Labor and Delivery Nurse Salary and Career Outlook
The median annual salary for all registered nursing professions was $75,330 in 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor and delivery nurse salaries can vary widely based on many factors, including the medical institution type, regional salary trends, professional experience level and the skills and qualifications the candidate brings with them.
Demand for RNs in general is expected to grow 9% from 2020 to 2030, according to the BLS. This level of growth is consistent with the average of all industries. Explore our nursing salary guide to learn more about the average nurse salary by career and state.
FAQs About a Labor and Delivery Nurse
Still have questions about what it’s like becoming or working as a labor and delivery nurse? Following are some common questions and answers about this career path.
The steps include becoming a registered nurse, passing the NCLEX exam and obtaining state licensure. From there, you may consider advancing your career by pursuing an Inpatient obstetric nursing (RNC-OB) certification.
The time it takes to become a labor and delivery nurse can vary among individuals, but is typically four to five years. You will need to graduate from an accredited registered nursing program, which generally takes four years. You will also want to consider the additional time it may take to pass the National Counseling Licensing Exam (NCLEX) and obtain state licensure.
Salaries specific to labor and delivery nurses exclusive from RNs are not currently available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS lists the 2020 median annual salary for all registered nursing professions at $75,330. Labor and delivery nurse salaries can vary widely based on many factors, including the medical institution type, regional salary trends, professional experience level and the skills and qualifications the candidate brings with them.
A certified nurse-midwife (CNM) must train and be certified with that credential. This certification is not required to become a labor and delivery nurse. Certified nurse-midwife programs are usually pursued through master’s in nursing programs. CNMs may provide a wide range of healthcare related to women before and after childbirth. Labor and delivery nurses are typically limited to providing care during labor and delivery and immediately following birth.
With an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), you may be able to find work as a labor and delivery nurse. However, many potential employers may prefer that you are an RN, having earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). If you’re just starting out, look for jobs that don’t require prior experience in labor and delivery. Alternatively, consider completing a labor and delivery internship to gain some experience in that field before you apply for jobs.
Last updated in February 2022