Running on no sleep, going through the motions somewhat clueless and feverishly googling “is this normal?” is a state of being new parents know all too well. The baby books may have given you a foundation, but nothing can prepare you for the day you bring your bundle of joy home and find yourself faced with the monumental task of caring for a life completely dependent on you.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to have someone there to teach you the ins and outs of caring for your baby, help tend to them in the middle of the night (so you can get some much needed rest) and work towards establishing a sleep schedule to have them sleeping through the night by the time you plan to head back to work?
It may sound like a dream fueled by sleep-deprivation, but for those who hire a night nanny it is very much a reality.
“I was looking for extra help for when I had my daughter and would be on maternity leave, mainly because my husband works and travels quite a bit and he had business trips at that time and I have no family near me,” Elizabeth Torres, Co-founder and CEO of a public charter school in Washington, DC, tells NBC News BETTER. “I wanted the help so I could make sure I could return to work after 8 weeks. I also wanted somebody to help show me the ropes on how to care for a newborn baby. I’d had experience with children, but none with newborns.”
Kristina Godfrey, co-founder of PR agency, GSPR, who lives in Corona Del Mar, California, also used a night nanny for all three of her children, but says she originally stumbled upon the idea by chance. “My husband was actually on a flight for a business trip and happened to be sitting next to a couple who had a baby. When my husband shared that we were having a baby they told him that the best tip they could give him would be to hire a night nanny,” she told NBC News BETTER. “They went on and on about how it was a life saver. When my husband came home he told me we had to hire one. I don’t know this couple but I feel like they were a gift from God.”
The childcare trend isn't a new one, according to Jospehine Chrouch, owner of New York agency Lullaby Baby Nurses. “Night nanny services have been in use for a long time, especially by mothers who’ve had a C-section or difficult labor,” she explains. However, while she has seen a steady clientele since the company’s inception in 2006, she does say that there are still many parents who do not know what a night nanny is, or that the service is even an option.
What exactly does a night nanny do?
Most people are familiar with daytime nannies — someone hired to take care of children while their parents are at work or busy during the day, or in some cases, around the clock. Night nannies — also referred to as newborn specialists — perform a similar service, but only during the nighttime hours.
Night nannies typically work with you starting the day you come home from the hospital for a period of 8-12 weeks, coming in the evenings and leaving early in the mornings (though they can stay all day if the service is requested.) The nannies handle everything pertaining to the baby in the period of time they're there, granting exhausted parents some much-needed rest — mothers are only roused during the night to breastfeed.
Night nannies typically work with you starting the day you come home from the hospital for a period of 8-12 weeks, coming in the evenings and leaving early in the mornings.
“For me, it was peace of mind. I knew that I could sleep and feel confident my baby was being well taken care of. I was so paranoid with the first baby I would listen to him breathe all night so even when he was sleeping, I wasn’t,” says Godfrey, who hired her nanny three nights a week. “The times that the night nanny came, I would go to bed and hit the pillow and feel like a million bucks the next day which made that night without the nanny bearable.”
Beyond allowing you to get much-needed rest, night nannies can be an invaluable resource, especially for those who are brand new to parenthood. Torres says her night nanny provided one-on-one coaching, educating her on other aspects of caring for her baby. “My night nanny taught me swaddling and sleep training; my child was sleeping through the night at about 8 weeks. After the nanny left, my baby had a few little regressions that I dealt with myself, but a really good structure had already been set in place,” she says. “I needed somebody to set up a feeding schedule, and she did that. She taught me how to bathe the child. She showed me how to set up the nursery and how to respond to certain situations; like if my daughter Jane was fussy or crying.”
Godfrey echoed this sentiment: "She taught me how to breastfeed in the beginning and how to care for a newborn. It is scary when you come home with your first baby and she was just so comforting.”
While Torres initially hired her nanny for 8 weeks, she extended her for two more when her husband had a few business trips pop up. Godfrey, on the other hand, hired her night nannies for longer time frames: “With my first son, we used her for 6 months. My third son had acid reflux and really was up and down all night so I used her for 9 months with him,” she says.
How to find the best night nanny for you
Torres’ ultimately found her night nanny Edmarine Baker through Lullaby Baby Nurses. Baker, who has been a nanny for a decade, says that all night nurses aren’t the same, and it’s very important to choose one who is the right fit for your family. “Do your research! Get at least 3-4 references from the nannies you’re planning to hire, references that you can call and confirm their character from,” she says.
And the interview process should go both ways: Baker ensures she’s a good fit by meeting with the parents beforehand to discuss the structure of the arrangement, expectations and generally get a feel for each other. Torres says that she interviewed a lot of night nurses before hiring Baker. “I asked a series of questions about experience, the approach that the nurse took with the child and what other duties they helped with,” she says. “Edmarine had a ton of experience, was very confident and had great references. She was also very clear about the duties she would take on; which is basically just taking care of the baby.” Torres clarifies: “I didn't expect for somebody to be a housekeeper or cook or to do all this other stuff. I wanted somebody who would totally focus on the baby.”
While not required, some night nannies choose to become certified as certified newborn care specialists, which requires a three-day training program and working a minimum of 1,800 hours and at least one year's experience with newborns, according to the Newborn Care Specialist Association for Certification, who also provides other training programs including a sleep training certification.
Chrouch explains that at her agency, parents play a large role in the selection process. “They decide who they would like to hire out of the choices available,” she says. “I give clients the option to interview. I don't just pair them with night nanny candidates, I get them involved.” One advantage of utilizing an agency is that they handle the pre-screening process. Chrouch says that Lullaby Baby Nurses provides a background check and a physical (including the flu and the tdap shot) for every night nanny, in addition to ensuring that all of their nannies are infant and child CPR certified.
Choosing to go through an agency may add an additional upfront expense, as many agencies charge a "finder's fee," that can range from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars. For some couples, word of mouth may help cut down on these costs. “I did my research by asking friends that had already had babies, and for my first son, I called a nanny service where I ended up hiring one from,” says Godfrey. “Since I became close to the first one, she introduced me to her daughter who became my second one. By the time my third child was born, those two ladies had moved on to different professions. However, a friend of mine had someone that she was just finishing up with so I used her and she was great.”
Are night nannies just for wealthy families?
You may be thinking, “This sounds great — if you can afford it.” But contrary to what you may be thinking the service isn’t only an option for wealthy families. While it may be a luxury for some families, to others it's a necessity — whether it's because they have no family around to help or one or both of the parents travel frequently for work or have stressful jobs.
Although out of reach for many families, planning and budgeting in the months leading up to your newborns arrival can allow some parents to utilize the resource. “My husband and I both work and it was something that we had talked about; due to his work schedule, we knew that we needed that extra support,” says Torres. “So we just started saving and budgeting for it.”
While prices differ from nanny to nanny (or agency, depending), the average cost per night — say 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. — is approximately $200-250, according to Chrouch. Most night nannies work for about 10-12 hours each night. Some offer 24-hour services, too.
While the idea of paying a nanny to tend to your baby overnight may be foreign to some, paying for child care certainly is not. And parents are no strangers to shelling out cash for child care. A 2017 Cost of Care Survey conducted by Care.com found that 32 percent of families spend 20 percent or more of their annual household income on child care, and almost 50 perfect are spending ten percent of their income. And despite the high child care costs, the majority of families (81 percent) say it’s money well spent and that their current child care plan is worth the money.
The survey also found that the majority of parents (72%) plan for the cost of childcare before the child is born.
For those who have can’t afford a full-time nanny, depending on the agency, special arrangements can often be made to accommodate tighter budgets, such as shortened time frames or alternating nights.
“We make arrangements for certain clients as the reality is that not all have the same budget. We negotiate and it does not affect the quality of the services,” says Chrouch. “It’s almost like shopping. Some stores will give you a deal and some won't. Most of my clients are young and some are not quite established yet, so we see the need to make adjustments and offer part-time services.”
Godfrey took advantage of part-time services: “It is definitely expensive. We opted to do it for three nights a week so that I would only have every other night to worry about,” she says. “Our motto was: literally worth every penny and if you have to skip vacations for a few years, you will not regret hiring one.”
The emotional concerns: 'Will people think I'm lazy?' and 'Will I still bond with my baby?'
There are always friends, family members and co-workers offering up their two cents — especially when it comes to how we parent. Thankfully, those who have enlisted the services of a night nanny say they didn’t feel judged for choosing to have some extra help. Plus, the service is gaining momentum, not only in the U.S, but in Europe too. More and more new parents are realizing that they need extra help — and that there’s simply nothing wrong with that.
“I think in this day it is pretty common for people to have night nannies/nurses,” Torres says. “A lot of my friends have had one; some didn’t, but I didn't get any negative feedback or judgment. I just got some people who said, ‘Oh, I wish I had one’.”
“I did feel a little guilt but not enough to deter me,” says Godfrey. “I mostly was concerned what others were going to think of me but I got over that pretty quick. I think I might have gotten some judgment but my mom was so great and was all for it so that helped. My husband doesn’t do well with lack of sleep and I knew he would be no help at night so I think that also helped me not feel bad about it. And that was definitely his reason for encouraging me to hire one.”
Concerning her feelings about letting someone else take care of her newborn, Torres says, “I did not experience any separation anxiety because I was up multiple times a night feeding my baby. Edmarine would just put her back to sleep so I could get more sleep.”
Even though a lot of time has passed, Torres says she’s still in contact with Baker: “We keep in touch; she gave me a lot of advice through phone/text the month after she left. As it is, we still have a strong bond and I am very grateful that I found her.”
Godfrey shared a similar sentiment, saying she, too, keeps in touch with her night nannies to this day. “In fact, they became a part of the family,” she says.
Torres says she has no regrets about hiring a night nanny — to the contrary, she says the experience was invaluable. “Her help was really valuable because she is just so experienced, as well as kind and compassionate,” she says. “The entire experience was good for me and it built my confidence in taking care of my daughter.”
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