What Is A Night Doula And Should You Hire One?

Are you expecting a baby or have a newborn at home? Congratulations! Are you looking for more support? Let's answer these burning questions: what is a night doula and should you hire one?

Parenthood is a wild journey, and caring for a newborn is one of the most amazing things you'll ever do. It's also one of the most exhausting times that can be filled with anxiety, stress, and sleepless nights.

You may have quickly realized you need more help than you anticipated after bringing your baby home from the hospital, or are planning months ahead for more support.

Night Doula: Overnight Postpartum Support

A postpartum night doula provides overnight care for families with newborn babies. They differ from postpartum doulas aka day doulas, who work exclusively during daylight hours.

Postpartum doulas are not to be confused with birth doulas who are hired for support with childbirth. In other words, birth doulas are hired to help you get through labor and conclude their work a couple hours after your baby is born. Whereas postpartum doulas are hired to work over the course of the days, weeks, and months after your baby is born.

Night doulas work in your own home, caring for your baby while you get some much needed rest. A night doula also provides support to mom and partners.

Most postpartum night doulas are certified through agencies such as DONA International or CAPPA Worldwide. Certification isn't required, but I recommend only hiring certified night doulas for the best care.

The best doulas are:

  • DONA International certified
  • Trustline certified
  • Infant CPR and first aid certified

Always ask a night doula to provide a list of families they have worked with that you can contact for reference checks.

Is A Night Doula The Same As A Night Nurse?

A night doula is not the same thing as a night nurse. So what's the difference?

Night nurses and night nannies care for babies overnight, but they do not provide support for moms and partners. Night doulas provide support for moms and partners in addition to overnight baby care.

Another difference is a night nurse is typically a licensed RN with official medical training. Night nurses can be hired to live in your home for a contracted number of weeks or months while they care for the baby. Some night nurses go by the title Newborn Care Specialist or NCS.

Is A Night Doula The Same As A Night Nanny?

A night doula is not the same thing as a night nanny. Night nannies typically do not have any official certifications or formal training. They should however have hands-on experience with newborn babies and infants.

A night nanny is unlikely to be a newborn expert. And since they do not have any formal training, you may not find they meet your needs, especially if you are a first time parent.

We tried hiring a night nanny to help fill in the gaps on the nights our doula was off, but it didn't work out for us. She simply didn't have the experience, nor the ability to function at night that we wanted.

What Does A Night Doula Do?

Night doulas don't live-in your home. Their typical work hours start around 10-10:30pm and finish around 6-6:30am the next morning. Many postpartum night doulas require a minimum number of nights per week. They may also require you to sign a contract in advance, others do not.

What does a night doula do? Here are the most common responsibilities that night doulas perform:

  • 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 and disassembly
    • 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
  • Washing and folding baby's laundry
  • 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)

Night Doula Support Benefits

There are lots of benefits of hiring a night doula. Here are the main ones:

  1. A lot more sleep for mom and uninterrupted sleep for partners
  2. Less stress and anxiety for mom and partner
  3. Protection from SIDS with a night doula on watch
  4. Help with bottle feeds and cleanup
  5. Breastfeeding support
  6. Having someone to patiently help baby burp, settle and fall asleep
  7. Establish healthy bedtime routines and sleep habits for baby
  8. Help with administering medicines and supplements
  9. Great resource for questions and tips on newborn care and products

Some night doulas also have sleep training experience, but it's rare.

How Much Does A Night Doula Cost?

Night doulas are expensive. They range in price depending on location, years of experience, types of certifications, and if they perform extra services like sleep training.

In expensive cities like San Francisco, experienced night doulas typically range between $45-50/hour. Night doulas in lower cost of living areas run closer to $30-35/hour.

Many families hire night doulas for 8-12 weeks postpartum, but it all depends on each family's budget, personal needs, baby's development, and the night doula's availability.

Our Experiences With 4 Night Doulas

We hired four night doulas for our kids: two night doulas for two babies. Here's a quick recap of what our experiences were like with each. Names have been changed for privacy.

Caroline – We found Caroline through a friend of a friend. She was sweet and calm, but young and inexperienced. She was just 23 years old and although she was certified and loved caring for babies, she planned to go back to school at the end of our contract to switch gears.

We didn't mind her young age as she was great with our son and enabled us to get much needed sleep at night. We hired her when our son was about 3 weeks old because we just couldn't function without sleep. We hired her for 3-4 nights a week for about eight weeks. Total cost $10,080. Our rating 4/5 stars.

Renee – Since Caroline was unable to continue working for us when our son turned 12 weeks old, we hired Renee to help us because he still wasn't sleeping well. She was referred to us by Caroline, but they were only brief acquaintances. She was about 27 years old, certified, and had been practicing for about 3 years.

We got positive feedback on Renee during our reference check process, but she wasn't a good fit for us. She seemed to be suffering from depression and couldn't keep track of our scheduled dates. Things ended awkwardly. We hired her for 3 nights a week for 2.5 weeks. Total cost $2,400. Our rating 2.5/5 stars.

Leah – We signed a contract with Leah for our second child when I was five months pregnant. We knew we wanted help well before our daughter arrived, and we wanted a much more experienced doula since things ended so badly with Renee. It was clear from the start that Leah was a true professional and the sweetest, calmest woman you can imagine. A true baby whisperer.

She has 30+ years of experience, all the certifications you can imagine, dozens and dozens of glowing reviews and references, and also had sleep training services. We initially hired her for 12 weeks, but extended to a total of 17 weeks.

She was with our daughter since the day we brought her home from the hospital and I can't say enough about how incredible and truly amazing she was. We both teared up on her last day and still stay in touch regularly. The guidance and support she provided us was truly amazing. She was also able to start gentle sleep training methods with our daughter in the last four days of her contract. Total cost $34,800. Our rating 5+/5 stars.

Joanna – We hired Joanna to complete sleep training with our daughter. She was referred to us by Leah and another doula. She also has 30+ years of experience, all the certifications you can imagine, dozens and dozens of glowing reviews and references, and also specializes in sleep training.

We weren't sure how long we would need Joanna. And with the coronavirus pandemic happening, we had some reservations on cost and COVID-19 exposure risk. We'd spent a fortune already for Leah and even though our daughter's immune system was past the most dangerous newborn stage, we were still wary.

In the end, we found a way to make it work. Joanna wore a mask while working and came for a total of nine nights. None of us got sick and now our daughter sleeps like a champ. Hallelujah! Total cost $3,200. Our rating 5+/5 stars.

Is It Worth Hiring A Night Doula?

We ended up spending over $50k for night doula services for both of our two kids.

  • Was it worth it? In hindsight for us, I say definitely yes.
  • Did we anticipate spending that much? No. Both of our kids had GERD and needed much more care at night than we expected.
  • Did it cause some financial tension for us? Yes, but we found a way to make it work. We cut costs elsewhere and I started working part time again to help cover the extra expenses.

Fifty thousand is a ton of money, no doubt. That's more money than some people earn in a year.

Thus, hiring a night doula is not within scope for the average American family. It simply costs too much money. Most couples also have children much younger than we did and can lean on their parents and other relatives for support.

We don't live near any of our relatives and our parents were not able to provide any help with either of our kids. So we feel fortunate that we had the financial means to hire night doulas when we needed help the most.

First Baby: Total spent $12,480

If Renee was a better night doula, we probably would have hired her for more weeks. But she simply was a bad fit for us, and we didn't have any other promising prospects to reach out to after she left.

I ended up taking over all the night duties with our son from around the 4.5 month mark. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to fully sleep train him successfully.

He can sleep through the night without waking sometimes, but it's infrequent and unpredictable.

Is it possible he would be a better sleeper if we had hired someone like Leah or Joanna? Yes I think so, but we'll never know for sure. In any case, the support we received from Caroline and Renee still enabled us to catch up much needed sleep. Hiring them also helped lower our levels of anxiety and stress as we navigated uncharted territory as first-time parents.

Second Baby: Total spent $38,000

We originally planned on hiring Leah for four weeks, which grew to eight, then twelve, and then seventeen. Our daughter's GERD really impacted her sleep.

Plus, our older son was still waking multiple times a night. Hiring Leah enabled me to focus primarily on helping him, and Sam could sleep uninterrupted and wake refreshed to write the next day and help out with the kids.

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 Leah and Joanna successfully sleep train her with Sam and I filling in on their 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 a miracle in comparison to our son's sleep challenges.

Fun related read: What is it like going from one kid to two?

Key Takeaways

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 in-home support for you and your baby.

Is a night doula worth the cost? It really depends on your family's needs and budget. If you have family nearby, you can always wait and see how things go after your baby arrives before signing a contract with a night doula.

It's possible too that you could be blessed with a baby who is an inherently good sleeper from a young age. In those cases, hiring a night doula may be unnecessary.

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 can afford it. Some night doulas sign contracts with families 3-6 months before the baby even arrives.

Definitely take the time to thoroughly interview any night doula before hiring her. Check references, request to see copies of her certifications, ask a lot of questions, and make sure both you and your partner like her. A night doula is there to support you both, so it's important to find the right fit.


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