4 Steps to Becoming a Labor and Delivery Nurse

15 Min Read Published September 29, 2023
How to Become a Labor and Delivery Nurse: Salary, Requirements, and Expectations

Labor and delivery (L&D) nurses are unique among the different types of nurses because they have a very specific job: to help deliver healthy babies and get moms through the process safely. In essence, they are doing what some might consider the most important nursing job of all — bringing new lives into this world. Read on to find out how to become a labor and delivery nurse, the education requirements, the average labor and delivery nurse salary, and more.  

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CCNE
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RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

The University of Texas at Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington’s online programs are designed to help you achieve more in your nursing practice with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. They offer convenient, flexible options for completing your RN to BSN or BSN online, both designed to fit into your busy schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
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Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

What Is a Labor and Delivery Nurse?

L&D nurses begin as registered nurses (RNs) and may become nurse practitioners or other advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). But ultimately, they pursue some level of specialty training to help pregnant women deliver babies.

Unlike many general staff RN jobs, where the kind of patient care you administer runs the gamut, L&D nurses have a very specific function – working with women about to give birth.

While most labor and delivery nurses work in hospitals, more and more birthing centers are opening throughout the country.

For anyone who's interested in becoming a labor and delivery nurse, the good news is that position will always be in demand, whether it's in a hospital, birthing center, or clinic. You can choose this fulfilling and gratifying career track by gaining experience as a registered nurse and specializing in L&D. 

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What Does a Labor and Delivery Nurse Do?

L&D nurses work with just a few expectant mothers per day, monitoring their progress and handling whatever new development comes their way.

After birth, they continue to care for the mothers until they are released from the hospital. This care is more complex for mothers who give birth via C-section or have other medical complications.

Some of the primary responsibilities of an L&D nurse include:

  1. Monitoring both the baby’s and mother’s vital signs, including heart rate and blood pressure
  2. Timing contractions
  3. Identifying and assisting with handling complications
  4. Helping to administer medications and epidurals
  5. Aiding in inducing labor
  6. Coaching new mothers throughout the duration of the labor and delivery
  7. And, of course, there’s also a lot of hand-holding, encouragement, and comforting going on in birthing rooms as well.

Why I Love Being a Labor and Delivery Nurse

"As a labor and delivery nurse, I am a part of someone's birth story three nights a week. Whether it is the most joyful moment or one full of sorrow and grief, it is my job to step into their vulnerability and provide the best care. This specialty is full of ups and downs, but the connection that I have with my patients will continue to be my why."

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Labor and Delivery Nurse Salary

The median annual salary for all RNs is $81,220 per year, or $39.05 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2022, though conditions vary by area. Labor and Delivery nurses will typically earn around that salary, with some earning more, depending on the location and type of institution. Those with advanced skills and experience can earn more as well.

Highest Paying States for Labor and Delivery Nurses

Tennessee
$130,215/yr or $62.60/hr
New Jersey
$129,803/yr or $62.41/hr
Hawaii
$128,800/yr or $61.92/hr
Massachusetts $127,754/yr or $61.42/hr
Nevada
$127,625/yr or $61.36/hr

Source: ZipRecruiter

How to Become a Labor and Delivery Nurse

1. Become a Registered Nurse

Before you can specialize or choose to remain in a particular hospital unit like L&D, you must first become a registered nurse. To do so, you must graduate from a study program that your State Nursing Board approves. Many registered nurses earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree or complete an associate degree program.

2. Pass the NCLEX

Upon completion, you have to pass the NCLEX-RN. From there, you can begin practicing and look for opportunities to gain experience in L&D units.

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3. Advance Your Education

Additional education is required beyond the RN degree program to advance in this career. Some choose to become nurse practitioners in obstetrics and gynecology. These highly specialized nurses are needed to handle high-risk patients, special circumstances, and complications.

Another route L&D nurses can take is to become certified nurse-midwives. That requires earning certified nurse-midwife and certified midwife designations through the American Midwifery Certification Board.

4. Earn Certifications

Another way to bolster your credentials as an RN is to earn a certification in your field of interest. For L&D nurses, that would usually be the Inpatient Obstetric Nursing (RNC-OB) certification through the National Certification Corporation. Becoming a certified labor and delivery nurse can give you an edge and make you more marketable.

>> Explore L&D Certification Review Materials* 

Popular Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University
GCU’s RN-BSN program is tailored to meet the needs of the RN adult learner and to maximize the strengths that the working RN already possesses. Transfer up to 90 credits and earn a BSN in as little as 12 months. GCU’s online classes allow you to study at the times that work for your schedule while still enjoying a close connection with your classmates and instructor via online discussions.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

The University of Texas at Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington’s online programs are designed to help you achieve more in your nursing practice with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. They offer convenient, flexible options for completing your RN to BSN or BSN online, both designed to fit into your busy schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

What is the Career Outlook for Labor and Delivery Nurses?

With so many nurses coming into retirement age in the next decade, the nursing shortage is here to stay for a long time. And because L&D nursing is physically demanding, requiring long shifts, it’s particularly suited for new nurses who have to, in a sense, labor right alongside their patients.

In other words, as far as job prospects go, specializing in L&D will help power up your job security even more. To get an idea of just how many nurses will be needed, consider that the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the field to grow 6 percent from 2022 to 2032, equating to almost 177,400 new nurses.

What are the Best Labor and Delivery Nurse Programs?

We selected an expert panel of nurses to determine the best nationwide labor and delivery nurse programs. Their methodical approach yielded 10 of the best L&D nurse programs available.

Methodology

This list is based on a number of factors, including:

  • Reputation
  • NCLEX pass rate
  • Tuition
  • Acceptance rate, when available
  • Only ACEN or CCNE-accredited schools are eligible

Labor and delivery nurses complete various levels of education, so this list takes into account all degree levels. 

Nurse Panel

Our selection panel is made up of 3 Registered Nurses with years of experience and multiple degrees:

  • Tracy Everhart, MSN, RN, CNS
  • Tyler Faust, MSN, RN
  • Kathleen Gaines, MSN, BSN, RN, BA, CBC

Because individual nursing pathways and careers take various forms, the following labor and delivery nurse programs are ranked in no particular order. 

Top 10 Best Labor and Delivery Nurse Programs

1. University of Pennsylvania

  • Annual Tuition: $56,212
  • Online: No
  • Program Length: 4 years

Founded in 1740, the University of Pennsylvania is among the nation's oldest and most well-respected universities. With a low student-to-faculty ratio of 6:1, Penn students get a high level of one-on-one time with professors. Future labor and delivery nurses should consider the undergraduate BSN, a four-year degree with good NCLEX outcomes. Those looking to further their education should consider Penn's top-notch nurse-midwifery or women's health MSN programs. 

2. University of Michigan Ann Arbor

  • Annual In-State Tuition: $7,925 Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $26,452
  • Online: No
  • Program Length: 4 years

While probably best known for its sports, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor is also one of the best public universities. U-M boasts one of the best undergraduate nursing programs, a four-year, affordable BSN for Michigan residents. The university also offers several nurse-midwifery MSN options, so labor and delivery nurses can further specialize in their education and career. U-M graduates also join an extensive alumni network which could make it easier to gain labor and delivery experience early on in your career.

3. Columbia University

  • Annual Tuition: $89,858
  • Online: Yes
  • Program Length: 15 months

Located in New York City, Columbia University is known for regularly producing high-caliber graduates who become experts in their field. Those interested in becoming labor and delivery nurses through Columbia take a non-traditional route. The university offers a pre-licensure MSN for those with non-nursing undergraduate degrees. Earning an MSN could make it easier to land in labor and delivery early on. Columbia also offers a DNP in nurse-midwifery for those who want to earn the highest level of education possible. 

4. University of Texas at Austin

  • Annual In-State Tuition: $12,040
  • Annual Out-of-State Tuition: $43,460
  • Online: No
  • Program Length: 4 years

With over 51,000 students, the University of Texas at Austin is one of the larger schools that future labor and delivery nurses might attend. As with other schools on this list, the University of Texas at Austin boasts a solid BSN program, and the school's connection with the extensive University of Texas system means students could gain clinical experience at some of the top hospitals in the region. Similarly, local Texas hospitals might prefer to hire a recent Texas graduate, making this an excellent choice for anyone interested in labor and delivery nursing in Texas. 

5. University of North Carolina

  • In-State Tuition: $32,255
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $91,120
  • Online: No
  • Program Length: 4 years

The University of North Carolina is among the top public schools. Great for research and healthcare, nearly every type of nurse can succeed with a degree from UNC. The BSN, available in a traditional four-year or an accelerated four-semester option, prepares students for success in any field. Those who can take advantage of UNC's low in-state tuition should definitely consider this top-ranked program.

6. Emory University

  • Annual Tuition: $53,070
  • Online: No
  • Program Length: 4 years

As one of just two CRNA schools in Georgia, Emory University's nursing department is held to extremely high standards. Its BSN program prepares students for any nursing career, including Labor and Delivery. Additionally, the nursing school also offers graduate degrees in nurse-midwifery and women's health, which are common advancement paths for L&D nurses. 

While the costs are steep, Emory notes that students do not pay the cost of attendance. Instead, this high cost is used as a bar before determining financial aid, and most students pay a lower rate than what's listed. 

7. Yale University

  • Annual Tuition: $67,119
  • Online: No 
  • Program Length: 4 years

An Ivy School located in New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University regularly offers financial aid to students who struggle with tuition, making this a surprisingly affordable option for many students -- assuming they get through the highly competitive admissions process. While Yale doesn't have an undergraduate program for nurses, its nurse-midwifery and women's health NP program rank among the best graduate degrees in the labor and delivery field. 

8. University of Washington

  • Quarterly In-State Tuition: $4,026
  • Quarterly Out-of-State Tuition: $13,302 
  • Online: No
  • Program Length: 4 years

The only West Coast school to make this list, the University of Washington is a regional leader in healthcare, and nursing students gain valuable clinical experience at the school's healthcare facilities. Aspiring labor and delivery nurses without a nursing license should enroll in the BSN, one of the best undergraduate programs in the region. Those looking to continue their education should pursue a DNP in nurse-midwifery or women's health clinical nurse specialist. The University of Washington also offers state residents lower tuition rates since it is a public school.

9. New York University

  • Annual Tuition: $37,918
  • Online: No
  • Program Length: 4 years

Created in 1831, New York University is among the best research universities worldwide, great for any labor and delivery nurses looking to advance their careers and earn graduate degrees. Of course, labor and delivery nurses must first earn an undergraduate degree and gain experience. Through NYU's BSN, students complete an excellent nursing program, gain clinical experience at some of the best hospitals in New York, and graduate with connections to local healthcare facilities. 

10. Aspen University

  • Annual Tuition: $9,750
  • Online: Yes
  • Program Length: 1 year

Aspen University is primarily an online school, so only licensed nurses with an associate degree should consider this option. However, Aspen's online RN-BSN is among the best out there, perfect for RNs with an associate degree looking to increase their earning potential. This flexible program also makes it easy to keep working while earning the degree, and the program cost is incredibly low. Completing an RN-BSN program could prove to be an excellent long-term move for labor and delivery nurses. 

Popular Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Sponsored
Grand Canyon University
GCU’s RN-BSN program is tailored to meet the needs of the RN adult learner and to maximize the strengths that the working RN already possesses. Transfer up to 90 credits and earn a BSN in as little as 12 months. GCU’s online classes allow you to study at the times that work for your schedule while still enjoying a close connection with your classmates and instructor via online discussions.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Purdue Global

At Purdue Global, discover a faster, more affordable way to earn your Nursing degree. Purdue Global is committed to keeping your tuition costs as low as possible and helping you find the most efficient path to your degree.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, but certain programs have state restrictions. Check with Purdue for details.

The University of Texas at Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington’s online programs are designed to help you achieve more in your nursing practice with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. They offer convenient, flexible options for completing your RN to BSN or BSN online, both designed to fit into your busy schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Where Can I Learn More About Labor and Delivery Nursing Careers?

To learn more about L&D nursing careers, take advantage of the resources available through the professional associations related to this field. The leading group for L&D nurses is:

The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) aims to improve and promote women's and newborns' health and strengthen nursing through advocacy, research, and education.

You can also check out our article on How to Become an OB Nurse, which is a related nursing specialty!

Labor & Delivery Nurse FAQs

  • What does a labor and delivery nurse usually do? 

    • A labor and delivery nurse cares for pregnant people during labor, delivery, and postpartum. They can also assess pregnant people for signs of premature labor or other pregnancy complications. Labor and delivery nurses also provide newborn care and parental and caregiver education, including bathing, grooming, health, and feeding.
  • How do I become a labor and delivery nurse? 

    • In order to become an L&D nurse, earn your RN, then apply to work on a labor and delivery ward. Some hospitals allow L&D nurses to apply directly out of school, while others may prefer nurses to have some experience on the general med/surg floor. 
  • Is labor and delivery nursing hard? 

    • Labor and delivery nursing can have challenging situations, such as pregnancy complications, but it’s highly rewarding. 
  • Is a labor and delivery nurse the same as a midwife? 

    • No. A certified nurse midwife (CNM) is a registered nurse who has gone through a master’s program to become an advanced practice registered nurse.
  • How long does it take to become a labor and delivery nurse? 

    • Becoming an RN can take 2-4 years, and it is possible to apply directly to the L&D ward right out of school. However, some healthcare facilities may require a year or two of medical or surgical experience. 
  • What personality traits are needed to be a labor and delivery nurse? 

    • Labor and delivery nurses must be able to pivot quickly, manage time effectively, communicate, handle high-stress situations, express empathy, and work well with doctors, patients, and families. A passion for pregnancy is also helpful for L&D nurses. 

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Terri Heimann Oppenheimer
Terri Heimann Oppenheimer
Nurse.org Contributor

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer is a freelance writer and editor who is driven by details. She loves to dive into research, ensuring that the information she provides educates, engages and illuminates. Before starting her own business she spent years working in advertising and raising three kids. Today she lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where her she and her husband enjoy travel, the Jersey Shore, and spoiling their grandchildren.

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