When I arrived at the hospital to deliver my first baby, I had no idea what I was walking into. I had not attended any birth-related classes, and I’d never watched an episode of TLC’s “A Baby Story” because I was afraid of what I might see. Truly, I was mentally unprepared for delivery.
Luckily, the labor and delivery nurse assigned to me was 100 percent calm and sure—she had helped so many women deliver their babies that she seemed ready for anything. I got to know my nurse right from the start, chatting about her life and her grown children. She was very friendly with my mom and patient with my clueless husband. She commented that we seemed like such a nice family, and I hoped I wouldn’t ruin the impression by screaming or swearing during delivery. (I think I behaved myself pretty well, considering the circumstances.) I was fortunate to arrive at the hospital early in the morning, so I got to keep the same nurse throughout labor and delivery; she spent plenty of time in my room and made me feel watched over and completely cared for. I never felt like she was in a hurry.
Although my OB/GYN did come in for the actual delivery, he was not a major presence in the hospital experience overall; my L&D nurse was the most familiar face until after the birth when I was moved to a recovery room. She was there to monitor, instruct and reassure me every step of the way, and I felt safe in her care.
What does an L&D nurse do?
One nurse will be assigned to your room, unless a shift change occurs while you’re in labor and the nurses have to make a switch. Your nurse may be assigned to only you, or she may be assisting other patients. (In my experience, you do see a lot of your nurse, so if she’s helping anyone else simultaneously, she hides it well.)
L&D nurses are responsible for monitoring your contractions and checking on your baby. Nurses are generally flexible about laboring options and birth plans. As long as you and baby are maintaining healthy vitals, it’s your call whether you would like to be in bed with constant monitoring or whether you would like to walk the halls, rock on a birthing ball, or labor in a tub if there’s one available.
Your nurse will be your advocate and connection to the anesthesiologist if and when you desire anesthesia. She will talk you through the labor experience, from early contractions through the transition period until it’s time to push. Your nurse will recognize if you or baby begin to show signs of distress and need special assistance—she is well-trained in knowing when it’s time to call in your doctor. She is there to assist the OB when he arrives, generally just in time to catch the baby and deliver the placenta. She may help with immediate baby care and perform the initial newborn assessment.
How to bond with your nurse
You’ve been cultivating a relationship with your OB for months and months, but your nurse—likely someone you’ve never laid eyes on before—is the person you’ll be spending the most time with throughout labor and delivery. It’s important to foster a healthy bond with her right from the get-go. So, how do you get off on the right foot?
Brooke Hedin, a mother of four in Idaho Falls, Idaho, shares her secret to a successful patient-nurse relationship: “I really believe a little kindness goes a long way. Be appreciative of the people who are helping you! They love to reciprocate.” Treat your nurse as a partner in delivery, and respect her expertise. Of course, if you come into the hospital in the throes of transition, your nurse is not going to expect you to make small talk. However, most mamas arrive with time to talk between contractions. Use this time to get to know your nurse on a personal level, express your hopes for delivery (such as labor positions and medication options), and discuss any worries you have. (Yes, she has seen patients poop during delivery, and no, it’s not a big deal.)
Jill Zollinger, a first-time mom who recently delivered in Salt Lake City, Utah, says, “The most important lesson I learned is to be as honest as possible with the nurses.” When Zollinger was panicking because she hadn’t felt her baby move for a few hours, her nurse listened and resolved her fears. And when Zollinger’s first epidural wasn’t doing the job, it was her nurse who stepped in and made sure the anesthesiologist came back for a redo. Communicate your concerns, so your nurse knows how to help you.
What not to do
Emily Slaugh, RN, an experienced L&D nurse at Northside Hospital-Forsyth in Cumming, Georgia, shares her secret pet peeve: “It’s hard to take care of a patient the way we want when the patient is on her phone constantly or has tons of family in the room when they first get there. I promise they can come back in, but I need to know what’s going on so that I can take care of you.” It is so important to establish great communication with your nurse—don’t let your cellphone or your delivery entourage get in the way of that!
Naturally, you will need to communicate your birth plan to your nurse and give her a written copy if you’ve brought one with you. However, do be aware that a detailed, three-page plan could incur some eye-rolling. Your nurse will try to meet your birth day expectations … within reason. Above all, your nurse’s or doctor’s medical advice should supersede your plan. Maybe you didn’t want constant monitoring, but your nurse is worried about baby and needs to keep a closer eye. Or maybe you were dead set on delivering naturally, but your doctor says a C-section is the best way to ensure your safety. Trust the experts!
Treat your nurse with respect and listen to her advice—she’s delivered way more babies than you have, guaranteed.
However, you do know your body. If you feel strongly that something is wrong and your nurse is not giving you the help you need, you can ask to see another nurse. Because this could sour your relationship with the nurse assigned to you, make sure you really mean it before you call for a second opinion. Most L&D nurses are wonderful, but, of course, they can make mistakes or have an off day.