The Difference Between Midwives and L&D Nurses

There are many paths to choose from in a nursing career, no matter your interests or comfort level. If you have a passion for helping bring new life into the world, it can be a little confusing to choose which position is right for you.

Many jobs within the nursing field require you to take care of people who have illnesses, diseases, and injuries. However, pregnancy is not a disease or illness, and their care can look different than the usual procedures.

Still, pregnant women can be a fantastic option for individuals interested in a career in nursing. But how do you decide between becoming a labor and delivery nurse or a midwife? The first step is learning what each one does, the educational requirements, and the differences between the two professions.

What Is A Midwife?
Midwives, or midwife-nurses, have been around for centuries and provide care for women throughout pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum. They have the same responsibilities as doctors and make critical decisions during delivery, including emergency interventions. Similar to a women’s health nurse practitioner, midwives can counsel moms-to-be on healthy habits during the prenatal phase, perform exams and guide women on pain management options during labor, and provide support and assistance as needed during delivery. They also offer additional education during postpartum such as breastfeeding and nutritional support.

What Is A Labor and Delivery Nurse?
L&D nurses will care for many different kinds of patients—teen moms, older moms, women who’ve undergone fertility treatments, and even women who are incarcerated. Unlike a midwife, these nurses help care for mothers and newborns before, during, and after birth until they are discharged. During this emotionally and physically intense time, they often form unique bonds with patients and their families, as they’re one of the most consistent points of support while in the hospital and throughout the birthing process. Nurses in L&D also work under the direction of a nurse-midwife or OB/GYN physician, whereas midwives often work independently.

Educational Requirements
To become an L&D nurse, you must first become an RN, pass the NCLEX-RN exam, and gain at least one year of relevant travel nursing experience. However, some facilities require that nurses have several years of general nursing experience before working in a labor and delivery unit. All facilities require L&D nurses to have advanced cardiac life support and basic life support certifications. Becoming certified in neonatal resuscitation and inpatient obstetric nursing (RNC-OB) will give you a significant advantage and bolster your resume even more.

Becoming a midwife closely follows the same path as an L&D nurse, but it takes a little more work. Along with becoming a licensed RN, additional training and education is needed. Midwifery programs have different admission requirements. Some schools require applicants to have a BSN degree, while others offer accelerated programs that combine the BSN and MSN requirements. Some universities have programs available for individuals with a non-nursing BS that meets the requirements for taking the NCLEX and the additional education to become a nurse-midwife.

Whichever way you choose, various midwifery programs take two to three extra years to complete before entering the field. Fortunately, by the end of it all, you will have the option to work independently or with a facility.

Career Opportunites
Career advancement opportunities differ significantly between these two types of nurses. Babies are born at all hours of the day and night, so midwives may have unpredictable work hours. When a woman goes into labor, her nurse-midwife stays until delivery and can’t go off duty when the “shift” is over. Most women who choose a midwife prefer to experience natural delivery and wish to use alternative techniques to manage pain.

Labor and delivery nurses mostly work for hospitals and may advance to administrative and supervisory positions or charge nurses. They also have the opportunity to seek out travel nurse agencies so they may expand their career. Midwives on the other hand primarily work for birthing centers or are self-employed, meaning they do not receive promotions like a nurse would from a hospital.

Different circumstances also affect the salary and income of labor and delivery nurses and nurse-midwives. Their years of experience, credentials, and where they live and work all play a role in earning potential. Nurse-midwives employed in private practice can set their own service rates, which can vary considerably. Depending on different opportunities or the quality of their performance, L&D nurses can receive multiple bonuses or pay increases. However, on average, nurse-midwives tend to have a higher earning potential than labor and delivery nurses.

The fundamental role both of these careers play in the lives of mothers and their babies is invaluable. No matter which you choose, new parents will be thankful for your aid in delivering their bundles of joy. If you’re ready for an opportunity to get started, look at our job board for available travel nurse jobs.

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