I remember the first time I heard about a night nurse.
It was during a conversation with a friend’s coworker who had recently become a parent. They had hired a night nurse named Fern to watch the baby while they got some sleep. (Fern is the angel on earth who we would also hire, many years later). I was floored. “THAT’S A THING?!?!”
This, mind you, was many many years before I even thought about having kids, but it made such an impression on me that I knew, many years down the line, I was going to figure out a way to hire one when I became a new mom. (This should give you a good idea of how much sleep is important to my mental health, haha!)
Part of the reason I wanted to wait to have kids (aside from the whole, ‘I want to live a lot of life first’ thing) was because I wanted to ensure we were in a place financially that we could afford help—and a night nurse was a big part of that!
My #1 fear going into parenthood was sleep deprivation. I do not do well on little sleep—I get sick, it really affects my mood, I don’t feel like myself—and I knew coupling this with postpartum hormones was just not going to set me up for success during my first few months as a mother. I couldn’t take weeks (or months!) of sleep deprivation with no break in sight. Those sleepless nights are some of the hardest challenges parents have to face! Enter: a night nurse! AKA, a person who cares for the baby overnight so parents can get some sleep.
Is a Night Nanny Worth It?
At first, I was really hesitant to share that we had hired a night nurse, because there’s still such a stigma about hiring help, especially during the newborn days!
But then I realized that I can help to change that narrative—no mom should ever be ashamed of asking for help (paid or unpaid). Of course, many want to, and don’t have the budget at the moment–and it’s a huge privilege to be able to do, yet even with the financial means, so many women feel as if they’ve failed if they “can’t do it all.”
Well, I’m here to tell you–I can’t do it all, I don’t want to do it all, and to encourage you to always use the resources available to you if you have them (or if you can find them). It’s the ultimate form of self care. You will never regret it.
Anyway—when I decided to share that we hired a night nurse, so many of you wanted more details! It has been one of my most requested post topics to date. Everyone wanted to know–was it worth it?! (Short answer: YES!)
It’s a concept that is new to a lot of parents (and may feel unattainable, but may be easier to swing than you’d think!) So I’m sharing all your FAQs in today’s post.
**Also, just FYI before we jump in–I’ve always let Fern know that if she needs more business to say the word and I will post her availability and send some referrals her way, but I also don’t want to overwhelm her by referring her hundreds of people either so just know–please assume her schedule is booked unless specified otherwise!
What is a night nurse or night nanny for babies?
A night nurse can also be called a night nanny, night doula, postpartum doula, a newborn care specialist, etc! “Night nurse” is a general term, but it doesn’t necessarily mean someone has medical training or a specific designation. (Although they might!) They are simply well-versed in caring for newborns and will be the one in charge of caring for baby overnight so the parents can get some sleep. Basically, think of a nanny, but one that works the overnight shift.
What are the general duties of a night nurse?
In general, a night nanny is the point person for all of the baby’s needs during a designated time period at night. If the baby cries–they’re the one tending to her. (Some work for 8 hour shifts, others work for 12 hour shifts.) Some only handle the needs of the baby (feeding baby a bottle or bringing to mom to nurse, if doing so, and then taking them back so mom can get some sleep as soon as baby is done) while others may also do baby’s laundry or other household tasks while the baby sleeps.
Our night nurse, Fern, was dedicated to caring only for June. She would arrive at 9pm, feed June her last bottle of the night (until June was 8 weeks and her last bottle and bedtime moved to 7:30pm.) Fern would stay in her room with her to tend to her during the night when she woke up, changing her, soothing her and/or feeding her as necessary. She would leave at 6am—so we had the hours of 9pm-6am to ourselves!
We would often use this time to go out on the deck to enjoy a glass of wine alone before we crawled in bed, others we would hand her over to Fern bleary eyed and crash as soon as Fern arrived. ???? There were so many times Fern walked in to me with tears in my eyes holding a screaming June, crying, “I’M JUST SO GLAD YOU’RE HERE FERN!!!” Fern quickly became part of our family and we are so grateful to have had her during those newborn days!
Is it worth it to have a night nurse if I’m breastfeeding?
We formula fed June from day one so I can’t speak personally on that, but many of my friends who have had night nurses would either just have the night nurse bring the baby into their room to feed and take baby back into the nursery as soon as she was finished, OR they would have the night nurse feed bottles of pumped milk or formula overnight.
How many nights does a night nurse come per week? For how long?
We had Fern come three nights per week, from 9pm to 6am, for the first 12 weeks. I have friends who had night nurses come twice per week, or even every night. Or they would start out with 3 days, and then taper off to 2 days. It’s flexible! It really depends on your budget and also your personal preferences. We liked three nights per week because it was enough to give us a break but we also still got plenty of overnight bonding time with her too.
Fern’s first night with a new client is always the first night home from the hospital.
(Which I didn’t want at first, be she assured me that’s how she does things because parents are SO in need of sleep by that time! She was right.) I believe this is fairly standard, but worth discussing with your own potential hires. I would ABSOLUTELY recommend having them come on the first night home from the hospital because we were so exhausted and just having a pretty hard time. In fact, I cried handing her over to Fern because it was my first time handing her over to anyone else other than Neal since she was born–but I knew she was in wonderful hands with Fern. I slept harder that night than I had slept in the past nine months, and it was so, so needed. I felt like a completely different person that next morning.
We planned for Fern to stay on about three months–which was a good amount of time. We wrapped up with Fern when June was sleeping until 5am-6am pretty consistently. Because every baby is different, she usually staggers her clients in a way that she can stay on for a couple nights per week if needed longer than anticipated.
How far in advance do you need to hire a night nurse?
This really depends on the night nurse! For example, Fern doesn’t work through an agency, and only through word of mouth. Because she’s so wonderful, she will often book up 6-9 months in advance. (Remember, I had been hearing about Fern for many years at this point, as by this point she had worked for many people who I knew and trusted, so I didn’t even interview anyone else–I think I was only about 8 weeks along when I reached out to her–it was my first priority, haha! I even have a friend who texted her the day she had a positive test with her second baby.)
On the flip side, I have other friends who have hired their night nurses when their baby was a few days old! You can absolutely find a night nurse at the last minute if you need to! (At least, in Chicago you can.) If you want to just see how it goes, I think you can definitely do that, there just might be a waiting period, or you may not be able to hire the specific person that you want!
Do night nurses sleep train?
Another very common question. While I know there are people you can hire to help sleep train your baby, night nurses don’t do this unless they are an actual sleep specialist. Most night nannies aren’t typically specialized in that area and also, newborns are too young to “sleep train.” If you have a specific protocol you want them to follow though, they will typically have no problem with that, but they do not sleep train specifically.
For example, while I wouldn’t call this “sleep training”–this is a methodology that I followed (per Moms on Call). Once June was eating plenty during the day and only waking up once around 3-4am (and our pediatrician said it was fine!) this is what I did: when she woke during the night, instead of automatically feeding her, I would first try and soothe her with a paci, rubbing her back, shhhing her, picking her up and rocking her if necessary, etc. Trying all that before feeding her if she had previously made it longer between feeds the night before. This just ensures she’s eating because she’s actually hungry (and not just snacking or using feeding to soothe) and helps her learn to go longer between feeds.
This “stretching” strategy helped move her gradually to sleep longer stretches through the night, eventually getting her to wake to feed from between 5am-6am and eventually sleeping until 7am, which is where she is now (she sleeps between 11.5-12 hours at night). I asked Fern to maintain this same strategy and she was happy to do so.
Do night nurses actually sleep when they’re on shift? Do they need a bed?
I have heard varying answers to this question. In my experience (and my friends’ experience) night nurses do not sleep while on their shift. Fern would sit in the rocking chair in June’s room and I’m sure rest her eyes/snooze, but that was it! I always asked if she wanted to rest or watch TV on the couch (the living room right outside June’s room) and she said no, she always wants to stay in the room with her babies!
On the flip side, I had one reader told me her night nurse would bring a fold-up floor pad and lay on that and sleep on it in the baby’s room. I have a friend who used to be a night nurse for a family and say that she used to fully sleep in the guest bedroom adjacent to the baby’s room. I suppose every night nurse is different in this regard!
Should you hire a night nurse? How to know if it’s right for you:
Well, first, obviously go with your gut. Does it sound like a good option for you? Then yes! Go for it! Here are a few reasons you might be an especially good fit for a night nurse:
If sleep is important to you:
Listen, there are plenty of people out there who can easily function on a few hours of sleep per night. And I am jealous. But I fall into the, “my life goes to shambles if I don’t sleep 8 hours a night–and that was BEFORE I had a baby” camp. Sleep is SO important to me, and I crumble if I am sleep-deprived. I went into motherhood knowing my limits and doing what I needed to do to set myself up for success.
I knew that my mental health as a new mom would suffer if I wasn’t getting an adequate amount of sleep. And I chalk a lot of my positive postpartum experience to the fact that I got an adequate amount of sleep at least a few nights per week. (It wasn’t nearly as much as I’m used to, of course, but it was enough to feel like a semblance of myself!)
If you’re a nervous new parent and looking for someone to help show you the ropes:
A lot of people lean on night nurses to show them the ropes of new parenthood! If you’re someone who has never been around babies and are nervous about not knowing what to do–a night nurse can be so helpful for all of these things! They can help you give the baby a bath, they can help you learn to know what your baby needs and why they’re crying–they can help with feeding related issues–they are a reassuring angel just there to remind you that you’re doing a great job! (By the way, you can hire someone to help you with this during the day, too! Just google “postpartum doula” in your area, this is a thing!!)
If you have other older children to care for or demands during the daytime:
Many of you said that you hired a night nurse for your second baby because you already have your hands full with your firstborn during the day, and you needed to be able to show up for them–and that makes perfect sense. It’s really hard to take care of TWO kids if you’re an absolute zombie struggling to get by day after day.
How much does a night nurse cost?
Ah! The most requested question, haha!
This will vary by city and state. I would say $20-$30 per hour is the average ballpark in Chicago. I asked those of you who have hired a night nurse on Instagram and the lowest rate was $18 in New Orleans with the highest rate being $700 per night in Boston. WHEW! That’s quite a difference! (Granted, don’t worry, Bostonians–other people in Boston answered $30 per hour–so I think it varies wildly by city too!) Many other readers said it was consistently $35-$45 per hour in their cities (From Indianapolis to Ft. Lauderdale to Western VA). I think it really depends on supply and demand and how competitive your market is, paired with the credentials and experience somebody has. Some also said you got a discount for committing up to a period of X months by X weeks in advance.
It may be significantly different where you live, so definitely do your own research! You will likely pay higher fees if you go through an agency vs. hiring someone who is on their own, so you may want to research both options–there are pros and cons to each. Additionally, there is a substantial price difference if you hire an actual RN vs. just a nanny. (In my opinion, a nanny is just fine for me!)
Let’s just do some quick math here, using $25 per hour as an example.
If you have a night nurse come for say, $25/hour for 8 hours, 3 nights a week, you’re paying $200 a night, or $600 a week, or $2,400 a month. If you live in Chicago, you know that’s how much full-time daycare will cost you a month!
That being said, in my mind, we have already financially planned to pay that sum for daycare starting when June was three months old, so while, yes, that’s a lot of money, it’s short term, and it was doable to plan ahead and budget to just start paying that allotment three months early.
It was a price that was absolutely, 100% worth our sanity, mental health, and equally as important–it allowed us to enjoy and soak up those newborn days rather than being sleep deprived and strung out.
Some ideas on finding the budget for a night nurse:
There is no denying that being able to hire a night nurse is a privilege for anyone. For many many people it’s just not feasible, and there is nothing wrong with that. You will absolutely be just fine without a night nurse. (Believe me, had I had a baby when I was younger, or if all night nurses had the rate of $700/night, it would have been WILDLY out of reach for us too! We would’ve managed!)
But I also think some people just see the cost and write it off as out of the question, when really, with a bit of budgeting–it could actually be feasible. If you don’t yet have the savings to put toward a night nurse, here are some ways you might be able swing it:
Not expecting yet, but planning to be in the next couple of years? Start saving now!
(Also, if you’re getting married, just ask for money. I would choose a night nurse ten times over in favor of everything combined that went on my wedding registry.)
Adjust the amount of nights you have the night nurse.
It is still worth it if she only comes for two nights per week, or even ONE night per week. Or have her only come for a month rather than three. Maybe start with more nights and taper off to less nights per week. You can be flexible. Any amount of time is still worth it!
Instead of a traditional baby registry, ask friends and family to contribute to your night nurse fund.
I don’t care if great aunt Rhonda scoffs at you because “she raised 5 kids without a night nurse.” DO IT. You don’t need half the stuff on your baby registry–but you DO need your mental health!
Instead of the fancy nursery you were planning, do a budget-friendly design.
Do a little bit more legwork asking friends and family if you can use/borrow any baby essentials that you need secondhand so you have more money to put toward a night nurse fund.
Can you pick up a side hustle, take on a freelance project or two?
Ask to put in a few hours per week working for a friend–anything to earn some extra cash on the side?
Plan ahead and adjust your budget.
Instead of planning a big babymoon, use those funds for a night nurse! (I promise you won’t regret that!)
Thinking about moving to a more expensive apartment or buying a larger, more expensive house in preparation for baby?
Maybe you could consider doing that AFTER baby arrives, so you have the cash flow to put toward a night nurse. The fact that we’ve stayed in our affordable, smaller condo for so long is a big part of why we were able to have the budget for it! If we were paying double the mortgage, it may not have financially been in the cards. By the way–babies don’t take up any room! You’ve got plenty of time until you need a bigger space!
Where can you find a night nurse to hire?
I think the best way is word of mouth. Ask friends, family, post in local Facebook groups you know have a lot of moms in your area. There are also night nurse agencies–which you can google in your area! If you can’t find any night nurses in your area (or have found you can’t afford to pay the prices for the one’s you’ve found) maybe consider putting up a job posting on Care.com? It’s worth a shot!
Overall, is a Night Nanny (Or Night Nurse) worth it?
Only you can decide that for yourself! For us, absolutely. 10 times over. The best money we’ve ever spent, and everyone else I know who has hired one has said the same. But every family is different with their needs (you may not need a lot of sleep!) and their financial situation. There’s no right or wrong answer–I hope this was helpful!
(And Fern, if you ever read this, we love you and miss you! Thank you for everything!)