What’s it like to work as a labor and delivery nurse? Well, the reality of nursing is changing with the ever-growing number of charting requirements. Let me show you what my day looked like as a 12-hour night shift labor and delivery nurse. Shout out to St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, CT!
7:30 am – don’t fall asleep on the road
Did you think I was waking up at 7:30 am like the rest of the world? Nope, just trying to make it home alive after a grueling 12-hour night shift. Something about the quiet stillness at 7:30 am on the roads after a hectic night of working, could easily put me to sleep driving home. Luckily, fresh air, music and my 4th coffee would keep me going until I rolled into the driveway. I would promptly fall asleep as quickly as I could with light-blocking shades, white noise, and AC blasting!
4:30 pm – rise and shine
I’m a good sleeper no matter what shift I worked. I typically would sleep a solid 8 hours as long as something external didn’t wake me up (#blessings). I would typically make a coffee and slowly get ready. Waking up at 4:30 pm usually felt weird as most people are getting ready to end their workdays and the sun would begin to hang low in the sky pending a sunset. I would shower at 5 pm, pack two meals and snacks and drive opposite of traffic at 6:30 pm for my 7 pm shift.
7:00 PM – Evening Nurse Handoff in an operating room
I’d swipe into my shift with my keycard, look for my patient assignment and sit next to the nurse who had my patients during the day. There is a specific method to “giving report” to the next nurse. Most times nurses are tired at this point in their long day. Sometimes they’re in the operating room and need to be relieved of their duties there. Sometimes they are pushing in a labor room and need to be found there. Often I would get my patient’s from the night before and yes, sometimes they weren’t yet delivered! Labor can take much longer than a woman realizes, especially with her first.
11:30 PM – Nightshift begins and time to catch a baby
Occasionally, your patient assignment might change. In fact, it can change often as the needs of the floor and staffing changes abruptly. I was trained to be a labor and delivery nurse, as well as, a postpartum nurse, mother-baby couplet nurse, a baby transition (catcher) nurse, and a well-nursery nurse. I forgot to mention we also took some breast or gynecology surgical patient’s when patient acuity was low. So, I was trained to handle wounds and surgical drains as well. I had to be just as nimble with babies as I had to be with elderly women too. Labor nurses are *supposed* to have a 2:1 ratio, however, it’s all hands on deck in case of an emergency or an imminent delivery.
3:00 am – eat between long stretches of pushing
I would typically eat at 5 pm, 11 pm and around 3 or 4 am. It’s hard to choose healthy foods at that hour, so I always made sure to pack my meals. In addition to this, I would pack one of my nurse practitioner textbooks to read in case it was a slow night. There wasn’t always a delivery every night and for that I am thankful. Some people like to be busy, I like to feel like time is on my side. It is fun to test your skills when you need to act fast though. Like, “how fast can I set this delivery table?” or “how fast can I throw an IV in a pushing woman’s arm or hand?” or “how quickly can I get your intake questions done between contractions?” That was a fun game.
6:30 AM – Someone’s delivering in the ER, can you go?
I can’t tell you the number of times something crazy would happen at the witching hour right before my shift ended. It seemed like a nightly ritual! Babies in cars, mom’s having seizures, women breaking their water in the elevator and immediately getting the urge to push… the list goes on! You have to be prepared for the entire 12 hours because at any point things can change. Just a side note, if the baby is coming too fast for the doctor to arrive, we know how to deliver a baby in every environment. And, if they are coming that fast, typically the baby slips out without difficulty.
8 am – Home and in pajamas
The best part of being a labor and delivery nurse is seeing new babies being born and joining their new families. It’s so sweet to see parents first reactions to their long-awaited babies. It never got old. It was always tear-jerking and beautiful. The next best thing is having long stretches off between workdays. I would work 3 nights on and then 4 nights off whenever I could. It was the only way I could manage working the night shift for 6 years!
advice from a former labor nurse
My number one piece of advice for new moms expecting to deliver soon: prepare as much as you can because once you go into labor, you are relying on your coping skills. Not always does a nurse have the time to be your support (as much as I wanted to be). There are a lot of charting rules that have to get accomplished for typically 2 laboring patients at a time. It can be hard to rub one’s back while keeping a watchful eye on your baby’s heartbeat and the ebb and flow of the floor. Labor and contractions can really surprise you, so if you have a plan and a few coping strategies in your pocket you can go for awhile avoiding an epidural. It’s really a mental endurance test (with a heavy dose of physical endurance too).
Partners tend to be just as caught in the headlights of labor as you will be too. It’s okay! They need childbirth education too and relying 100% solely on your partner can be both good and bad depending on the couple.
Breastfeeding is the long game. It’s much easier said than done, but once you have the hang of it, a few weeks in, it’s the easier option of the two. Preparing to breastfeed should be of equal importance to preparing to birth. You will never know how much dedication and determination you need to get through those first weeks. But, then you can really enjoy the breastfeeding high that everyone talks about!
Now I’m a nurse practitioner and I see pregnant women before delivery. I have the time to educate, enlighten, prepare and calm the nerves of my patients beforehand. I love it and I want to share my knowledge and birth tips with you. Check out my online classes that work with your schedule!