The night nanny: Godsend or unnecessary indulgence?

More and more exhausted parents are turning to overnight helpers to help them cope. Amanda Cassidy looks at why. 


It’s 3 am and the world is quiet – except for the gentle squirm of your tiny baby, nuzzling against your warmth as you struggle to stay awake to feed. Exhaustion washes over you. If you are lucky baby might let you have until 5 am before you have to do it all over again. The thoughts of having to get the other children up and out to school on time add to the overwhelming tiredness and the inevitable struggle to get through the day. This is a familiar scenario for many parents of newborns.  But now there’s a new option – for those that can afford it.

The latest must-have?

We know that babies are not hardwired to sleep through the night. If you are lucky you’ll have family support or a partner willing to muck in but this is the stage that seems to take the most physically out of mothers.

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For many, the sleepless nights are seen as a rite of passage – but for others, it is a part that they are happy to outsource.

Increasingly, parents are seeking help from night nannies and maternity nurses to take care of baby for up to 12 hours a night so they can have a good night’s sleep – especially in the early weeks of babyhood. Typically the tasks for a night nanny would include taking care of the baby whenever they wake, changing nappies, bottle feeding and making sure they are safe and well.

Emily Canton is an accountant from Rathfarnham. She welcomed twin baby girls just before Christmas. Her husband works abroad during the week and has just finished his paternity leave. Emily says she would be lost without that extra pair of hands -especially during the night. “You feel a little indulgent sometimes telling people that you’ve someone coming in at night but I would be dead on my feet if I didn’t at least get a good night’s sleep. The maternity nurse also gives me tips that would have taken me ages to figure out on my own. The peace of mind is the best part - knowing I have an expert on hand especially during the nights when it can be daunting.”

The Baby Whisperer

Overnight maternity nurses cost between 15 and 20 euro per hour for single babies and 20-25 euro for multiple babies. Typically they will arrive at 9pm and stay until 7am. Susan Dunn is from Belgrave Agency in Dublin which runs Nanny.ie, she told us that night-time maternity nurses are no longer seen as a luxury – especially for working mums. “When you are in the hospital you are very protected. But the minute you leave and are at home, it can be overwhelming. Our maternity nurses can help with things like the early detection of colic, give new-mum advice and help with establishing routines, naps and obviously giving mum a good night’s sleep."

These days,  it isn’t unusual to find friends clubbing together to pay for a few nights with a maternity nurse as a new baby gift for a friend. Anyone with small babies will understand that sleep is a precious commodity that can make or break the experience of being on maternity leave.  Many even blame lack of sleep for triggering postnatal depression or anxiety.

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As parents, we are busier than ever. Does the increase in these type of services mean we have finally managed to shake off the outdated image of the Irish mammy as an endlessly self-sacrificing creature?

"My own responsibility"

Mairead disagrees. She has a 3-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. She is expecting her third child in the summer and works full-time. “I see those times during the night as pretty precious moments that I’d be very reluctant to miss. I liked being the one to figure out their little quirks and watch their little patterns form".

"Yes, it was exhausting, but it’s all part of being a parent.

"They are not little forever. I think missing out on those quiet night feeds and changes would mean missing an important part of their babyhood. I’m lucky enough to have a very hands-on partner so I would never judge anyone else, but for us, we feel as parents, it is our responsibility and although exhausting, I look back so fondly on that time."

Susan Dunn says a typical client would have multiple babies, someone who doesn’t have family support or those whose partner can't be as hands on. She says often parents just want a couple of days to sleep bank so they can see the bigger picture. “Attitudes are changing. For a lot of mums, I tell them to be more practical. Look at what you can actually manage. If you need assistance, there is no shame in that. People are finally realising that sometimes they simply can’t do it all.”

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Would you get an overnight maternity nurse? We'd love to hear your opinion.

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