As any expecting first-time father would do, I read several books on how to support my wife during her pregnancy, what I should do as a father, and how to care for a baby after birth. I also talked to about 25 moms (12 of which were moms of the boys HS tennis team I coached) about what they wished they had more of or what they would have done differently during their 4th trimester.
Without hesitation, most moms told me they wished they had more support. The first 3-6 months after childbirth is usually quite brutal. The support could have come from more paid time off, more help from grandparents and friends, or more help from their husbands.
I also went down a deep rabbit hole online learning about a lot of parents who lost their babies during the first six months postpartum. It is very sad and fear-inducing, but it is also important to know what might happen without proper care.
Given I didn’t want to mess things up as a first-time father and we didn’t have any local support, I did more research on finding support postpartum. I landed on the benefits of hiring a birthing doula, a day doula, and a night doula.
After being super frugal since graduating from college, now was the chance to finally spend up on something that will help the people I love the most. Here is a guest post from my wife on everything you should know about hiring a night doula.
Before Sam and I had our first child, all I could really think about was getting through the pregnancy and surviving the birth. What I should have done was spend more time preparing for everything that comes postpartum.
Sure, we took newborn care classes, got all the appropriate baby gear, and prepared the nursery. We felt ready. When our son finally arrived though, Sam and I were flooded with indescribable joy juxtaposed with overwhelming first-time-parent anxieties and intense sleep deprivation.
After a few weeks, we realized we needed more help than we anticipated, and hired a night doula.
I’m going to explain why we decided to hire night doulas with both of our two kids, how much it cost us (not cheap!), and what our experiences were like hiring and getting support from night doulas.
So, just what is a night doula and should you hire one?
What Is A Night Doula?
A postpartum night doula provides overnight, in-home support for families with newborn babies. In other words, night doulas care for babies during the night in your own home and also provide care and support to moms and partners as needed.
Night doulas work in the postpartum period, i.e. the days, weeks, and months after a baby is born. They differ from postpartum doulas aka day doulas, who work exclusively during daylight hours.
Postpartum doulas are not to be confused with birth doulas or labor doulas who are hired by families to support women primarily with childbirth and also during their pregnancy.
Although not required, most postpartum night doulas complete structured training and receive certifications from agencies such as DONA International or CAPPA Worldwide.
The best agencies teach night doulas to be newborn experts through hands on experience, workshops, reading materials, and reference checks. The best postpartum night doulas also complete first aid and CPR training and certification.
Night Doula Vs Night Nurse And Night Nanny
Technically, a night doula is not the same thing as a night nurse or night nanny. Night nurses and night nannies also care for babies overnight, but unlike night doulas they do not provide support for moms and partners. They only provide overnight baby care.
A night nurse is typically a licensed RN with official medical training. Sometimes, night nurses are hired to live in your home for a contracted number of weeks or months while they care for the baby. A night nurse may also be referred to as a Newborn Care Specialist or NCS.
Night nannies on the other hand usually don’t have any official certifications or formal training, but should have hands-on experience with newborn babies and infants. You could hire them to live in your home temporarily as well, or have them come to work only for a set number of hours per week.
Night doulas do not live-in your home for the period they are hired. They typically start work around 10-10:30pm and leave by 6-6:30am the next morning. Some postpartum night doulas require a minimum number of nights per week, others do not.
Typical Night Doula Responsibilities
Heres’s a list of common responsibilities and services provided by postpartum night doulas during the night and early morning.
- Helping mom and partners get more sleep!
- Breastfeeding support
- Help with latching and other technicalities
- Bringing baby to and from mom for feeds
- Pump setup, disassembly, cleaning
- Proper storage of breastmilk, freezing
- Bottle feeding
- Burping, settling, and putting baby down after feeds
- Helping baby establish good sleeping habits
- Diaper changes as needed
- Documenting times and details of the baby’s wakes, feeds, diaper changes
- Administer medicine if needed such as gripe water, gas drops, probiotics, Vitamin D drops, saline drops, reflux medications
- Clean, wash, sterilize bottles and pumping supplies
- Provide guidance and support to moms and partners
- Teach newborn care skills like swaddling, soothing, bedtime routines
- A friendly ear to talk to, help moms and partners build confidence
Some postpartum night doulas also provide additional services such as:
- Longer overnight shifts ranging between nine and twelve hours
- Washing and folding baby’s laundry
- Preparing breakfast for mom
- Light house cleaning in baby’s room, kitchen, or common area
- Sleep training (although rare, see below)
Benefits Of Hiring A Night Doula
Sleep, sleep and more sleep. The best reason to hire a night doula is to get more sleep. If you’ve never had a baby before, they are a lot of work, literally 24/7. There is a heightened level of anxiety with your first baby given everything is new and any wrong move could cause tremendous injury or worse.
As a result, sleep deprivation and other troubles like insomnia, stress, and heightened anxiety can quickly overwhelm mama and dada. That can take a major toll on both your mental and physical health.
Hiring a night doula provides ~8 hours of relief for dads and partners to sleep uninterrupted and moms to get longer stretches of uninterrupted sleep in between breastfeeding and/or pumping too.
Plus, you can rest at ease knowing someone attentive and alert is caring for your baby the entire night. You don’t have to be as scared of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) with a night doula on watch. Nor do you have to worry about falling asleep with the baby in your arms and accidentally dropping her.
In addition to more sleep, night doulas provide all the other benefits listed above. Rare gems among the night doula community can even help with sleep training.
Night doulas with extensive sleep training experience are hard to find, however, and typically require that a baby weigh at least 12 pounds, is eating enough during the day, doesn’t have any medical issues, and is 4 months of age or older.
How Much Does A Night Doula Cost?
Night doulas range in price depending on location, years of experience, types of certifications, and if they perform extra services like sleep training.
They charge by the hour and typically require seven to eight hour shifts for a prearranged number of days and weeks. Most night doulas also usually require an upfront deposit that is applied to the last scheduled week mutually agreed upon in a written contract.
In expensive coastal cities like San Francisco, experienced night doulas typically range between $40-50/hour. Night doulas in lower cost of living areas run closer to $25-35/hour.
Families hire night doulas generally for 8-12 weeks or possibly more depending on their budget, personal needs, baby’s development, and the night doula’s availability. Other families opt for around 6 weeks; it all depends.
The most in-demand night doulas typically require a minimum of four nights per week for at least four weeks. Usually six nights per week is the maximum a night doula will agree to work due to her own needs to be well rested. Families who want support seven nights a week typically have to hire two night doulas to get complete coverage.
Why We Hired A Night Doula
Before our first child was born, we really had no idea what we were in for as parents. Sure we’d heard comments from other parents like, “sleep now because you won’t get any good sleep after the baby’s born.” But that didn’t really sink in, nor was it very helpful.
A quick summary of reasons why we chose to hire night doulas are below.
- We don’t have any family close by to support us.
- Our closest family is a 4.5 hour plane ride away.
- We had children late in life and our parents are all age 70+ and unable to help.
- We don’t have as much energy as we did in our late 20s and early 30s.
- Our parents have even less energy, have their own health challenges, and have a hard time being away from their homes.
- Our siblings live out of state and are busy with their own kids and work.
- Although props to my sister for flying in to help us while simultaneously working remotely for our first 5 nights at home from the hospital.
- We lack a network of close friends who could easily support us, plus we don’t want to burden them with our own childcare needs.
- We were paranoid about SIDS with our first baby.
- We were too afraid to sleep when he slept so one of us was always awake during the night shifts.
- We quickly got very sleep deprived.
- Our son had a very intense startle reflex, which would wake him even when swaddled tightly.
- He’s never been a good sleeper, even to this day.
- Both of our babies had GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) which disrupted their sleep much more than the average baby.
- They also had to be held upright for 30-45 minutes after each feed to avoid reflux pain and vomiting.
- Ever since our son was about a year old, he’s had night terrors, i.e. inconsolable violent tantrums with screaming, kicking, and crying in the middle of the night that he’s completely unaware of.
- They can last 30 minutes and occur abruptly with no warning. Having a night doula focus on our baby girl helped me focus on him and keep him from injuring himself in the middle of the night.
- Biggest catalyst for Sam: Sam knew of two acquaintances whose babies tragically died within six months after birth. As a result, Sam researched a lot about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and the difficulties some mothers have breastfeeding postpartum. In one instance, a baby died from accidental starvation. This was the article that really made an impact on our decision to hire a night doula.
Each Night Doula Experience Will Be Different
We ended up hiring a total of four night doulas, two night doulas for two babies. Each have their own personality and way of doing things. It’s up to you, the parent, to thoroughly interview them before hiring. After all, your night doula will see you during your most vulnerable time and be responsible for taking care of your most precious asset.
I recommend first agreeing to a trial session or two to see how things go. If you, your baby, and the night doula have great chemistry, only then should you commit to a long-term contract.
Even if you sign a long-term contract with a night doula (2-4 months), it is usually possible to break the contract if your doula can find another customer to take over. Just have an open conversation about what-if scenarios.
Remember to be considerate because these contracts are a night doula’s livelihood. Unless the night doula has done something wrong or unforgivable, please honor the contract just like you would honor a rent agreement or paying a mortgage.
Was Hiring A Night Doula Worth It?
We ended up spending over $50k for night doula services for both of our two kids.
- Was it worth it? In hindsight, I say yes. The best time to hire help is when you need it the most. You’ll get the most bang for your buck. As time goes on, babies get stronger and will slowly start sleeping better through the night.
- Did we anticipate spending that much? No. Once you get nighttime help, it’s hard to let go of the security blanket, especially with a son who still doesn’t sleep through the night.
- Did it cause some financial tension in our marriage? Yes, the tension started after about the third month of paying for a night doula, the stock market began to crash. That was when we had a heart-to-heart to slowly stop using one to save money.
- Were we crazy to continue having help during the COVID-19 pandemic? Maybe. Our night doula had been working with us since birth in December 2019. She lived alone and sheltered in place the entire time.
We originally planned on hiring our night doula for four weeks, which grew to eight, then twelve, and then seventeen. Our night doula was in high demand and we didn’t want to risk only signing her for one month just in case we wanted more help. Our daughter’s GERD was worse than our sons, and it really impacted her sleep. She needed a lot of care during the night in order to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Plus, our son was still waking multiple times a night. Hiring our night doula enabled me to focus primarily on helping our son during the nights when I wasn’t pumping or feeding our daughter. And Sam could sleep uninterrupted and wake refreshed to write the next day and take care of the kids with me.
Fortunately, our daughter started to outgrow most of her GERD symptoms after about fifteen weeks and her sleep started to improve as well. Being able to have our night doulas successfully sleep train her with Sam and I filling in on her days off was truly priceless.
Now I can set her down in the crib wide awake at bedtime every night, leave the room, and watch her fall asleep on the baby monitor. That is a true miracle in comparison to our son’s sleep challenges.
Key Takeaways From Hiring A Night Doula
A postpartum night doula provides overnight, in-home support for families with newborn babies in the days, weeks, and months after birth. The biggest benefit of hiring a night doula is getting more sleep and professional childcare during the most vulnerable time for both mother and baby.
Is a night doula worth the cost? It really depends on your family’s needs and budget. The good thing is that the night doula cost won’t last forever since your baby will eventually start to sleep better. However, I highly recommend having a breakaway plan if you hire one. Otherwise, you could spend much more than you wanted and cause unwanted financial stress.
If you have a reliable support network in place such as your parents, in-laws, siblings, or cousins who can lend a hand with baby care to help ensure you get enough rest, then you can always wait and see how things go after your baby arrives.
If you’re like us, however, and only have each other to lean on, you may want to consider making arrangements far in advance if you have the financial means. The best night doulas typically book up 3-6 months before baby’s due date.
It’s always possible that you could be blessed with a baby who is an inherently good sleeper and find a night doula is unnecessary. Our babies were not like that. Like anything with parenting, deciding whether or not to hire a night doula is a personal decision for you and your growing family.
Readers, have you hired a night doula before? What was your experience like? For those of you with kids, how were they with sleep as newborns and infants?
P.S. from Sam: Without a night doula, there was no way I could publish 3X-4X a week for the first four months after our daughter’s birth. Once preschool was shut down in March, having a night doula became even more valuable since we were both on childcare duty all day during the day. Therefore, if you have enjoyed Financial Samurai in 2020 and gained value from what I have written, you can thank my wife and the night doula. It is impossible to write coherently when you are exhausted and sleep-deprived.
Judgy comments on how we spend our money are welcome if you also include your own postpartum childcare situation. Remember, this article is here to help expecting parents. We’re always going to do what we want with our money.