As a nurse, you have the opportunity to work in all sorts of different specialties. For some people, the fast-paced nature of the emergency department is what gets their blood pumping. Others prefer working in the operating room alongside surgeons. Some would rather spend their days working in a physician’s office. There are even those who dream of bandaging boo-boos as an elementary school nurse. Nurses are needed in every sector of the healthcare field, and the work they do is vital.
For many nurses, working in labor and delivery (L&D) has a lot of appeal. After all, working in L&D allows you to play a vital role in bringing new lives into the world. That, in itself, is pretty amazing!
Being a labor and delivery nurse isn’t all about snuggling cute babies, though. While it is a very rewarding career, it’s not one that is free from challenges. If you are thinking about pursuing this career path, keep reading to discover what it’s really like to be a labor and delivery nurse.
There’s No Such Thing as a “Typical” Day
If you are looking for a position where you can pretty much predict what’s going to happen during your shift, being an L&D nurse is not for you. On any given day, you could find yourself working in all sorts of different positions. You could be caring for patients in triage, perinatal, antepartum, or postpartum. You might be in the birthing suite with a mom who is actively laboring, in the operating room, or in the post-anesthesia care unit.
In some ways, working in labor and delivery is similar to working in the emergency room. You never really know what is going to happen on a daily basis, so you need to be prepared for anything. That means investing in comfortable footwear to help when you’re on your feet all day running from one case to the next. It also means being ready and willing to deal with whatever the day throws at you.
It Gets Messy
Bringing a tiny human into the world can be a messy business. And the messes don’t stop once the babies are born. We won’t go into too much detail here, but there will likely be plenty of days when you’ll need to change your clothes partway through your shift. Fortunately, modern scrubs are fairly stain-resistant and easy to launder!
If you are thinking about working as an L&D nurse, be prepared to have a strong stomach. You’ll be seeing (and coming in contact with) all sorts of unpleasant substances on a daily basis. You’ll get to experience plenty of unpleasant smells, too. Once you’ve done the job for a while, the grossness factor tends to wear off. When you’re new to the game, though, it can take you by surprise.
Every Patient Is Different
Working in labor and delivery means working with expectant mothers from all walks of life. You’ll have great moms who are fully prepared for the big day and willing to do whatever it takes to help bring a happy, healthy baby into the world. You’ll also have not-so-great ones who are rude, stubborn, or downright combative.
Keep in mind, too, that not every birth is a happy occasion. While most of the families you work with will probably be elated that a new little one is about to arrive, there will also be those that are very unhappy about the circumstances.
Every patient has a different level of pain tolerance, too. There is no denying that giving birth is one of the most painful things that a human being can endure. Some women endure the pain with grace, and others do not. You’ll have moms who breathe deeply through each contraction with minimal outward signs of pain and those who scream and cry. Remember that everyone handles pain differently, and remind those who are struggling that there is no shame in getting an epidural.
Some Days Are Devastatingly Sad
The feeling you get when placing a new, healthy baby on a happy mom’s chest for the first time is incredible. It’s the moment that most labor and delivery nurses live for. Unfortunately, delivering babies doesn’t always go as planned.
You will likely experience the gut-wrenching feeling that comes from being unable to detect a fetal heartbeat. You will help deliver babies who are only able to survive a few short moments outside of the womb. You’ll experience heartbreak. You’ll see the pain on the expectant parents’ faces, and you will feel their anguish. Every loss will stick with you throughout your career. While you’ll never get over the pain that accompanies the loss of a much-wanted baby, though, you will learn to cope.
There are plenty of happy moments in labor and delivery, but there are also unhappy ones. The sad days can be devastatingly sad, and, unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to avoid them.
The Job Is Incredibly Rewarding
Despite the challenges, working in L&D is endlessly rewarding. You get to play a huge role in the miracle of bringing new lives into the world, and you get to help people on some of the best, most challenging, and sometimes most painful days of their lives. Seeing a new baby enter the world is something that never gets old, nor does seeing the joy on a parent’s face as they meet their new little one.
If you are in nursing school and considering a job as a labor and delivery nurse, try to get some hands-on experience before committing. Securing a CNA job in women’s health while you are a nursing student is a good way to get a feel for the field. Doing your senior practicum in labor and delivery is a good option, too. Working as an L&D nurse isn’t right for everyone, but, for many, it is a very rewarding and enjoyable career path.