Night nurse. Night nanny. Postpartum doula. Newborn care specialist. If you’ve never heard of these terms – or have frantically searched them while questioning, “will I ever sleep again after having a baby?” – let us explain what they mean. Generally, we’re talking about a professional care worker who supports families by prioritizing sleep and routine throughout the night. The goal is the same but they way each care worker practices might be different—and like most things, what’s right for you might not be right for the next person. Let’s dive in!
The night nurse or night nanny.
Some night nurses (aka baby nurses or night nannies) are indeed registered nurses but this is not a requirement of practising in this role. Here, the title of nurse refers more to the act of caring for someone rather than denoting how much medical training someone has completed. Night nurses are focussed mostly on the baby. If the baby can bottle feed, a night nurse will take on all night feeds while the parent(s) sleep. If a parent is body feeding, a night nurse will bring the baby to the parent and ensure a smooth transition back to sleep when the feeding is complete. Between feeds, a night nurse will swaddle, soothe and change the baby, caring for them independently until morning.
The postpartum doula.
We’ve talked about the different types of doulas and what they do here, but in relation to sleep, overnight doulas work holistically to provide support for both parent(s) and baby. The relationship between an overnight doula and parent(s) might feel more involved than with a night nurse—rather than solely caring for the baby (unless that’s what parents request), a postpartum doula acts as a buffer to maximize sleep while taking care of everyone’s needs.
Having postpartum support can be crucial in those first few weeks after a baby arrives. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders can feed off exhaustion and if you’re physically recovering from birth, your body needs rest in order to restore. New (and soon-to-be-new) parents can feel nervous about the lack of sleep that will inevitably happen when a baby arrives and this is often compounded by the outcome of birth. For families who have other children that don’t sleep through the night, the reality of a newborn may feel overwhelming.
Building a relationship with your support team before a new baby arrives allows you to get to know each other in an intimate way. Those early days with a newborn oscillate wildly, and finding a groove can feel easier when you’re well rested and cared for. Finding long stretches of protected sleep – times when you can truly settle because you know your baby is being cared for by someone you trust – can feel like a lifeline.
Typically, overnight care is an 8-hour shift that begins in the late evening and continues into the early morning. Every relationship is different and requires different things, but generally, it goes a little something like this →
10 pm — Your postpartum doula arrives, probably texts to say they’re here and checks in with your family. Parents often have lots of questions at this point and it’s a great time to ask them!
10.15 pm — If your baby is exclusively nursed, your doula will encourage you to feed your baby, and if you’re exclusively pumping or doing a combination of both, they’ll get the pump set up and ready to use throughout the night.
10.30 pm – Your care worker settles in and gathers up anything your baby will need for the night: bassinet, diapers, soothers, sound machine, you name it, we’ll grab it.
10.45 pm — Parent(s) get ready for bed and tuck in for the evening, while your baby and postpartum doula get settled in their room or nook.
And now until 5.50 am — Six-ish hours of glorious rest for the parent(s). Your postpartum doula will care for your baby throughout the night by doing bottle feeds, diaper changes, burping, settling and soothing as needed.
- If your baby is nursing, your doula will bring them to you whenever they need to eat
- If your baby is bottle feeding, your doula will feed them throughout the night, and if you’re also pumping, they’ll collect any freshly pumped milk, sterilize pump parts and bottles and bring back the clean ones back
Throughout the night, alongside caring for your baby, overnight doulas can help with washing and sanitizing bottles, making formula for the next day, and some might even be partial to a bit of laundry folding or snack prep.
5.50 am — Parent(s) and baby are reunited for a morning feed.
- While you’re gently waking up together, your doula will finish any last tasks like tidying up, sterilizing bottles and pump parts and oh…is that the coffee machine we hear?!
6 am — Doulas pack up their things and head on their way!
Other things you might want to know →
Overnight care workers are trained to adjust to the needs of parents and babies, taking into consideration your baby’s feeding patterns and cognitive development
Folks who seek out overnight sleep support the most tend to be
- Twin parents or parents of multiples
- Parents with partner(s) who have demanding jobs and/or no parental leave
- Parents with no family or community to provide daytime support (or any support!)
- Parents with health complications and/or barriers in their postpartum healing
Learn more about how our postpartum doula team can support your sleep during those first few months (and beyond) of parenthood, by filling out our intake form and getting in touch!