Most labor and delivery nurses work in hospitals, though some work in freestanding birthing centers. They assist women and families during all stages of the birthing process from prenatal testing to postpartum care. Most labor and delivery nurses work three to four 12-hr shifts each week and will care for several patients each shift.
While this is generally a happy time for a woman and her family, serious complications and negative outcomes (maternal and/or fetal death, serious infection, etc.) do occur. The nurse must be emotionally supportive of the family during such a difficult time.
The labor and delivery nurse will learn how to perform non-stress testing and electronic fetal monitoring, and assist during both surgical and vaginal deliveries. Besides the technical expertise required, a labor and delivery nurse must be a source of information, empathy and strength for women and their partners going through labor. They must be able to balance what a woman wants for her birth experience with what is medically necessary for a safe delivery.
In addition to labor and delivery, many hospitals rotate nurses through the postpartum and nursery units, switching every shift, week or month. Nurses who work in the postpartum unit will monitor women for complications after delivery, assist with breastfeeding and baby care, and perform patient teaching. Caring for the newborn is the responsibility of the nurse working in the nursery. Some smaller hospitals, however, don’t have separate staff in the nursery and will instead rely on the postpartum nurses to care for the newborn infant as well.
The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) no longer offers the perinatal certification exam, but will allow nurses who are already certified to renew and maintain their certificate.
However, the National Certification Corporation still provides certification in Inpatient Obstetric Nursing, Maternal Newborn Nursing, Low Risk Neonatal Nursing, Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing, and Electronic Fetal Monitoring. To be eligible for certification, candidates must pass the certification exam, and have worked a minimum of 2000 practice hours in the designated specialty within the last two years.
In addition, The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) provides professional guidance and educational opportunities for nurses actively working in the perinatal field.