“We say it takes a village, but what exactly that looks like and where those support people come from can be a big challenge for a lot of new parents,” says Maria Robertson, a former nurse and founder of The New Mummy Company, an agency that provides prenatal and postpartum support services in several major cities across the country. For a variety of reasons, some of that village might need to be hired help, she says. A night nurse can provide parents with invaluable support, as well as much-needed sleep.
Also called newborn care specialists or baby nurses, night nurses are care providers that are hired to help with baby care. “‘Night nurse’ is just an old term that’s commonly used,” says Stefanie Antunes, founder of Discover Birth, a doula agency in Toronto that offers a range of services, including overnight support.
Typically, night nurses are trained in CPR, infant care, feedings (sometimes they are also trained lactation consultants) and managing the needs of preemies and babies with certain medical conditions. They can come with a range of accredited designations, from doula to registered nurse, and they typically work at night, taking over baby’s care while parents get some much-needed rest.
The exact parameters of this care is decided with parents in advance (typically during the interview and placement process) and can vary from family to family. In general, night nurse duties include everything from changing diapers to walking the floor with the baby to managing night feedings. For a mom who breastfeeds exclusively, a night nurse can bring the baby to mom at specified times and take the baby away to be burped, changed and put back to sleep. A night nurse can also set up and clean breast pumps if mom is pumping or prep formula and feed the baby if they’re exclusively formula fed. Night nurses also provide important information on infant care for first-time parents, reviewing everything from bathing newborns to curing diaper rash to troubleshooting reflux issues.
What they won’t do is much housekeeping—at least not at night. Many baby nannies will also work during the day, though, if you need an extra hand around the clock. “During the day, they will cook, tidy up and help around the house,” says Antunes. “At night, they typically just take care of the baby because the goal is for parents to sleep.”
Although night nurses are often introduced during the newborn weeks—often booked for the first six or eight weeks, when mom is recovering from birth complications and baby’s needs are greatest—they can stick around until toddlerhood. If mom becomes pregnant with baby number two or three or the other parent is away a lot for business, a family may book a night nurse for a few nights a week or according to the travelling parent’s schedule on an ongoing basis.
Hourly rates average about $35 an hour, or $280 a night, but this depends on experience. A postpartum doula will probably charge less than a registered nurse or an internationally trained paediatrician. (Some services employ doctors who have extensive expertise in baby care but aren’t able to practise medicine in Canada.)
Some services require a commitment of several weeks, while others have more flexibility. “We’ve done anywhere from one night for a family where the dad had the flu to two years,” says Robertson. A full night shift, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., is standard. (You can’t request that your nanny just show up for a few hours to cover the graveyard feedings.)
Experts say it’s best to research night nanny services in your area and book before your little bundle arrives to ensure that you get a good match. (Most agencies offer vetting and interviewing services for free.) “Our agency has been booked solid for the past year,” says Antunes. “Parents need to do this long before their baby is born to reserve someone for their needs.”
Typical clients include families who have one parent who travels a lot for work, couples having multiples, and families who live far from their extended family or support network, says Robertson. But it’s not just first-time parents who enlist the services of night nurses. “We get calls from a lot of parents who are expecting their second baby,” says Robertson. “They already have a busy toddler at home and wonder how they’re going to manage being up at night with a newborn while keeping up with the older child during the day.”
One of the biggest benefits of hiring a night nurse is that parents get the sleep they need for a full postpartum recovery. “This is especially important for people who suffer from mental health issues, as sleep is correlated to well-being,” says Antunes. (Studies show that prolonged sleep deprivation ups an otherwise healthy new mom’s risk of postpartum depression.)
“It’s having someone there who encourages you to rest and takes care of you but also takes excellent care of your baby,” says Robertson. That way, you can be the best version of yourself to parent the following day.
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