Diary of a Night Nanny (Part 1)


Becoming a new parent and adjusting to your new routines and sleep deprived nights can at times be challenging and testing. Night Nannies are leading overnight baby care specialists, their focus is to gently guide your baby to sleep through the night, whilst you enjoy a good night’s sleep

Interview: The agency has suggested I would enjoy this job with a first-time mother so I go along to meet Lucy whose baby is due within the month. She seems lovely although since this is her first baby she is naturally a little apprehensive. Additionally her sister already has two small children and has been inundating her with advice – I get the feeling not all of it is entirely welcome! We seem to get along fine, we discuss routines and feeding. Lucy wants to breastfeed as much as possible but she says she also wants to sleep as much as possible, so we talk about expressing and decide to fine tune this as we go along. She shows me the baby’s nursery which has plenty of space for my bed too (which is nice – I have slept on sofa beds and in people’s lounges before now) and confirms that she would like me to be her Night Nanny.

Week 1.
Sunday evening of my first week. It will be quite full-on as Lucy rang me after the interview to ask if I would do 5 nights a week instead of the three she had originally requested. I’m slightly wondering how this relationship is going to develop, since I haven’t even met the husband, whose name is James. When I arrive at 9pm the baby, Isabelle, is snuggled on her mother and both are half asleep on the sofa. My alarm bells ring immediately – a baby falling asleep on her mother is effectively sleeping on her tummy which is not recommended, but I don’t want to jump in with a criticism from the beginning. Lucy tries to struggle up, but I tell her to relax and sit down beside her. Isabelle is a week old, she came out of hospital at three days old and James is obviously besotted. There is a lovely atmosphere you only get in the early days of a baby’s life; there are cards and flowers on every surface, the floor is littered with new toys and the chaos that a baby always brings in its wake is evident everywhere. There is also a feeling that real life is suspended and nothing really matters apart from this little miracle. Lucy and I chat for a while about how long Isabelle generally feeds, how long she sleeps and if there is any pattern to her days.

I realise that Lucy is so tired that she can’t take much information board at the moment, so I gently ease Isabelle from her and explain that I will take her upstairs, put her in her crib and bring her to Lucy for her next feed. I suggest that Lucy should have a bath and get to bed, to make the most of my being here. New mothers thrive on a potent cocktail of hormones and euphoria in the first few days, but this gradually dies down and might leave Lucy feeling a little low. This is the well-known “baby blues” and only lasts for a day or so at most, but I am always on my guard should it last longer and turn into post-natal depression – much more prevalent than people think. The best way to combat it is to get as much sleep as you can and to make sure you eat and, most importantly, drink plenty of fluids.

That first night we muddled through a bit, just getting to know each other; Lucy is keen to breastfeed Isabelle so I explain that, in order to establish successful breastfeeding, she has to focus on that totally for the first few weeks. This can be hard work and very tiring, but the rewards, both emotional and healthwise, are well-known and Isabelle feels it is worth the effort. I also explain that, although you can’t impose much of a pattern on the breastfeeding in the first few weeks, you can certainly begin to introduce practices which mean that Isabelle will begin to recognise the difference between her daytime feeds and her night feeds. We can also start to teach her some sleep associations and develop a gentle bedtime routine.

By Thursday night (my last night this week before I leave them for the weekend) we have got a bedtime routine sorted that suits Lucy. Bathtime at 6.00 pm, feed at 6.30 in Isabelle’s nursery with only the light from the landing casting a gentle glow over her room. I have persuaded Lucy to move the mobile from over her cot to over her changing table so that she is not distracted when she is getting to sleep and Lucy does all Isabelle’s daytime feeds downstairs so she can begin to understand that this feed heralds the beginning of night time. Lucy is quite surprised that I swaddled Isabelle – until I explained that new babies, straight from the confines of a womb, are much happier to be kept firmly swaddled and will sleep the better for it.

Week 2
Inevitably things slipped a little over the weekend. Lucy told me that Isabelle’s godparents had come to visit and stayed until well after 7.00pm thus completely knocking out Isabelle’s bed time routine. She said she was so sorry that she had messed up all my hard work. I laughed (which was not the reaction Lucy had expected) and told her not to worry at all. Routines are there as a basis for everyday life, but they should not be so rigid that they cannot bend to accommodate treats every so often and they can be returned to very easily.

Week 3
James has been back at work for a full week and when I arrive on Sunday evening he is looking disconsolate. He says, rather sheepishly, that he missed Isabelle last week and that seeing her all weekend has brought it back to him; he doesn’t want to become a father who only sees his children at the weekends. When I suggest delaying bathtime by half an hour so he can become involved, he is delighted. I explain once again that routines need to be flexible and suit the whole family; he admits: “I can see how selfish it would be to deprive Isabelle of her sleep, so I’m thrilled at the compromise we’ve reached.”

It doesn’t take long for Isabelle to get used to the adjustment in her routine and apparently her joy is obvious when James slams the front door shut on his return from work and she knows he is home to play. Lucy says the respite is welcome for her too, giving her a chance to get the house straight after visitors or before beginning to organise supper. She also enjoys hearing James bonding with Isabelle and tells me of a friend whose husband doesn’t seem interested in their new baby. In my experience men can often find it hard during the first few weeks because they feel there isn’t anything they can do and they are on the outside of the circle. But I tell her to reassure her friend that once the baby starts smiling properly at about 6 weeks and reacting to its father, he won’t be able to resist.

Week 4
We are in a very easy routine now; Isabelle is beginning to lengthen the time between her night feeds of her own accord and has had her weekly check-up by the health visitor who is delighted at her progress and compliments Lucy on her own health. Lucy very sweetly says it is entirely down to having a Night Nanny and the health visitor takes some postcards for other mothers. In fact, Lucy has been a model mother, looking after herself as much as Isabelle. Apart from sleeping well, which is certainly helped by having me there, she has also made sure she drinks plenty of fluids and has a properly balanced diet. The one night this week that James brought home a curry (one of his favourite meals), we all noticed it in Isabelle’s nappies! She won’t be doing that again soon, but it did trigger an interesting conversation about what Indian babies eat! I told her that every baby gets used to what his mother eats and the different flavours come through in the breast milk, it is simply that Isabelle isn’t used to curries … “Yet!” remarked James.

Week 5
We now have the perfect bedtime routine with James bathing Isabelle at 7.00 pm and putting her down awake at 7.30 pm. She wakes for a dream feed at 10.30 pm and then generally sleeps through until anytime between 2.00am and 4.00am for another feed and wakes like clockwork for breakfast at 7.30 am. Lucy tells me delightedly “She’s such a clever baby!” which is true, of course, but instigating and maintaining a manageable routine and good sleep associations have all helped Isabelle achieve this.

The family are so well-sorted now that at the end of the week Lucy suggests that she can manage with me coming only three nights a week. This is wonderful news – I will miss seeing them each evening, but it gives me such a buzz to see a mother gradually taking on responsibility for the care of her baby.