Being a Labor and Delivery Nurse // What It's Really Like

"I'm a Labor and Delivery nurse." A statement that spurs a bunch of questions. "What's that like?" "Do you hold babies all night?" "How do you do that for 12 hours?" "I bet that's the funnest job ever." Here's a little insight to what it's really like behind the Labor and Delivery doors.

I work the night shift, which means I go to bed around 9 am and sleep until around 4. I toss and turn most of the day--my schedule is backwards compared to the rest of the world. I kiss my husband goodbye as he's getting home from work, knowing I won't see him for another 24 hours.

After drinking my "morning" cup of coffee on the way to work, I clock in and head up to the L&D unit. I can usually tell what kind of night it's going to be by the amount of people swarming the halls. We get a quick report on what's going on with patients currently, hear a few sometimes funny stories from patients earlier in the day, and catch up with coworkers. I try to go to the bathroom around this time, too, because I never know when I'll get another break.

I have a job that is coveted and hard to get. Labor and Delivery units don't have much turnover when it comes to nurses, because it's a sought-after position, so once you're there, you stay there. People think we sit around holding babies all night, and some nights we do, but our job is so much more than that. 

As nurses, we take on many roles. I admit patients, check cervixes, start IVs, administer medications, and file paperwork. I place catheters, circulate c-sections, and recover patients after surgery. I'm constantly looking at a computer screen, monitoring babies heart rates and contraction patterns, charting every 15 minutes and making sure that everyone is alive and well.

Hospitals never close, which means I work holidays too. I spend Christmas away from my family, with my coworkers and patients. To make Thanksgiving a little easier, we have a potluck feast and hope that the day isn't so crazy that we can't enjoy it. 

I'm a friend to my patient and a coach when need be. I'm an encourager when my patient thinks she can't push any longer. I sit my patient up while she's getting her epidural, while she's sweating and breathing through contractions, yet holding me in a bear hug after we've only known each other for an hour. I hold her hair back when she's getting sick from medicine or just from the pain. I let her squeeze my hand during a strong contraction and talk to her about her other kids, pets, or job to get her mind off of the pain. I ask her what the baby's nursery looks like, or what the baby's name will be--anything to distract her, even for  just a minute, to make that contraction go by faster.

I'm the go-between when the patient isn't getting the kind of care she wants. I'm the one who calls the doctor at 2 in the morning and advocates for her care. I make coffee for family members who have been up for 24+ hours, I make up couches for dads who need a nap. I grab extra pillows and reposition my patient every hour or so so she doesn't get uncomfortable and maybe labor will progress. 

I see patients at their most vulnerable times. Although we're strangers, she doesn't care that I just saw her naked. I reassure her over and over again, "a body part is just a body part to us--it's not the first we've seen today, nor will it be the last." I laugh and try to lighten the mood, joke around with the dad; I'll do anything to take a little bit of nervousness away from the parents.

I rejoice with moms and dads when, after years of infertility, a sweet baby is born. I cry when a dad cries after holding his child for the first time. I get excited when a mom of 4 boys has her first little girl. I tell each sweet baby "happy birthday" as I pass it off to the nursery nurse, while making sure the baby is breathing and isn't blue. I'm part of the best day of their life,  they thank me for being there, and I love that feeling.

At the same time, I'm there with parents who have lost a baby, the ones who have had miscarriage after miscarriage. I hold a patient's hand when she comes to the hospital and the baby's heartbeat is no longer there. I cry as the doctor breaks the news to her, and am there as the process to induce begins. I smile, get her a Sprite, bring her extra pillows, as if that will fix the situation. I'm there for the worst day of their life, and I hate that feeling.

My job is hard and demanding most days. There are rarely enough hands for all the things that need to be done, for all the moms who need care, and all the babies who need attention, yet somehow we do it and do it well. We run around in circles some shifts, when 0700 seems so far away, but, hour by hour, we keep going. My job is rewarding and incredible, more than anything. I get to experience a miracle every time I go to work, and I don't take that privilege lightly. 

I'm asked all the time if my job makes me not want to have kids. The answer to that is a definite no; quite the opposite, actually. It makes me all the more ready to experience this with Andrew. I'm glad to know what I know about this baby business--I won't be terrified when it comes my time(s). 

So, if you're reading this and have been a patient or will be in the future, I hope you know that your nurse is there for you. Each patient makes an impact on us, whether we realize it or not--we pour our hearts into every delivery. Our job is challenging and exhausting to say the least; it's often an emotional roller coaster, but when you hear that baby's cry for the first time and see the look on the parents' faces, it makes all the tough times worth it. And that's what being a L&D nurse is really like. 


  1. I just wanted to comment again since I commented 5 months ago. . I am now in Labor and Delivery!! I started a little over a month ago. I absolutely love it, but it is very challenging. I have drove home in tears a few days because I expect so much more of myself. But I have to remember it will take time! Thank you again for this beautiful post. It truly impacted me :)

  2. I am so sorry I never saw your other post! My blog was updated and my disqus got all messed up, but I see it now. I'm so gad you commented again! And YAY for being in L&D! It definitely takes time friend, I've been a L&D nurse for 3 years and still have those days when I go home in tears, in exhaustion for the night before and because it's just so hard sometimes. Please keep me updated on how it goes!!!