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Night Nannies Confess All

Photograph by Twenty20

One of my friends is a lot like Kirk from "Gilmore Girls" in that she is always wearing a million different hats. I’m not kidding. She recently told me that she realized four jobs is the most she can handle at once—and she regularly walks that line.

So when she told me she was working as a night nanny (on top of her full-time career, her many volunteer obligations and her highly involved political activism), I shouldn’t have been surprised. Except, I was. Mostly because I had never heard of a night nanny, and I was immediately intrigued by the concept.

My friend, and countless others like her, go into other people’s homes and take care of their newborns while mommy and daddy get a full night’s rest. And this can go on for months!

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This friend’s full-time career is actually in public health, so I naively assumed at first that this was simply an extension of her regular job—maybe some kind of program being launched or tested to help mothers at risk for postpartum depression. Because you can see the numerous practical applications there, right?

But, of course, a night nanny is an expense that probably wouldn’t ever be paid for by any insurance company or government agency—it was silly of me to even think that for a second. Instead, night nannies are a luxury, a benefit afforded to those capable of paying $20 to $40 an hour for their sleep.

I’ve had clients that don’t make eye contact, that essentially throw their baby at me and shut the door. It doesn’t feel good to be treated like a lower class.

Which got me thinking, what kind of people hire night nannies? And what stories could those nannies tell?

It turns out, there are some doozies. I spoke to a handful of night nannies on the condition of anonymity, and these are the stories they shared:

“Most of the time, I show up to work with no makeup on, in sweats, simply comfortable and ready to spend a night waking up with babies. I’m also a new mom myself, so … there is no 'cute' happening for me.

"There was this one father of triplets who was trying his best but was clueless. He would spend a lot of time after his wife went to bed asking me questions about the babies. Rare, because most husbands crash immediately once we get there, but like I said, he was trying.

"This job lasted several months, and eventually it transitioned into his offering me alcohol. I always declined, stating I wanted to be professional and all-there to care for his triplets. But then, it advanced to him making actual passes at me.

"I ended up having to tell him that his behavior was out of line. I said, ‘I’m going to chalk this up to you being sleep-deprived, so you should probably go get some rest. But if you ever start acting sleep-deprived toward me again, I’ll have to tell my boss and your wife.’

"Thankfully, it never happened again, and he suddenly seemed to have a newfound respect for his marriage. I know things can get strained between a couple right after a new baby, and I’m sure that’s even more true after three new babies. But hopefully he turned things around and started being the husband his wife needed him to be.”

Ugggggh! Right?!? You want to know the worst part, though? This wasn’t the only story I heard like this. One nanny revealed she had a client who tried to slide into bed with her, explaining that it was a “straight-up terrifying encounter.”

So, apparently you don’t have to be a good person to hire a night nanny. Night nannies are earning their wage, not only by spending all night waking up with someone else’s baby, but also by putting themselves at risk of having to deal with creepy husbands in the middle of the night.

Here’s to hoping you can trust your husband with the night nanny.

Still, most of the stories I heard were more positive. Some nannies talked about really starting to care for the families they were helping, and even being hired on as long-term day nannies after their night nannying gigs were over. One even said:

“I had a couple thank me for preventing their divorce. They said that their marriage was falling apart when their twins first arrived, but that letting them sleep helped return sanity to their lives, and even helped the mom with her postpartum depression.”

Of course, there were also the complaints. Like this one:

“Being straight-up treated like ‘the help’ is hard. It rarely happens, but when it does, it sucks. I’ve had clients that don’t make eye contact, that essentially throw their baby at me and shut the door. It doesn’t feel good to be treated like a lower class.”

And this one:

“The company I work for is really clear about what is and is not included in our services. I am there to care for the baby throughout the night, and when he/she/they are sleeping, so am I. I had one client who simply could not accept this. She kept saying that she was paying me for every hour I was ‘on the clock,’ and that I should be working, even if the baby was sleeping. She wanted me doing her laundry and her household chores, even though our contracts explicitly state that’s not what we’re hired to do! She would also always try to keep us (me, and the other nannies who worked for her on different nights) late, and would threaten to get us fired if we spoke up. Thankfully, the couple who owns the business I work for is amazing, and when I went to them, they immediately had our backs.”

I asked one nanny what the worst type of clients to work for are. This was what she said:

“The houses where grandparents are staying for an extended period of time are usually the hardest. Mom and Dad are tired, and they’ve usually paid for the service, so they’re going to bed. But Grandma will often stay up all night, hovering over us, criticizing diaper changes, telling us how to apply diaper cream and even swooping in to take crying babies from us. It’s hard because we’re hired for a reason and then completely stifled in trying to do our jobs. I get it, it’s Grandma and she wants to help. But, that may not be the best time to hire a night nanny.”

Wanting to end on a positive note (because, really and truly, most of these women seem to love their jobs!), I asked another what the best part of her job is. She said:

Sometimes we are there seven days a week from birth, and then the babies start sleeping through the night and your job is done. It can be really hard to walk away from a baby you’ve snuggled almost every night since it was born! We keep in touch with the families and love getting new pictures and updates from them! It’s so amazing to watch those babies transform before your eyes!”

OK, you had me at baby snuggles. If I weren’t such a fan of sleep myself, this might be a job I would even consider taking on.

Then again, I already kind of did that once—spending countless nights getting up with my own newborn as a single mom. But I wouldn’t have traded those nights for the world. I loved those quiet moments in the dark that were just for us. I loved being the person who was there to soothe and comfort my girl.

That said, my daughter was adopted—so I wasn’t dealing with healing from labor or a C-section, and my hormones weren’t all over the place. Plus, my daughter was actually a pretty great sleeper—averaging 6-hour spurts by 6 weeks old and sleeping through the night by 8 weeks.

I know not all families are so lucky.

The clients just want to do what is best for their family, and sleep is an important part of functioning normally!

So, I wanted to know a bit more about the business of night-nannying, and who can be most helped by the services offered. To my surprise, I found that there are many, many night nanny agencies around the country. There’s even an agency up here in Alaska, where we tend to be a bit behind on the times with this kind of thing. I decided to reach out to Lindsey Kruse, owner of Denali Night Nannies, to learn the ins and outs of the business.

Can you tell me a bit about your clients? What type of parents use night nannies?

Parents who need sleep! Medical professionals who can’t afford to come to work tired, new moms who want to show their bosses that they can be moms AND productive workers, stay-at-home-moms who need a chance to take time to themselves, parents of multiples, and parents that just need a break and need help getting their child to sleep!

Is there an age range where this is most common?

We primarily work with infants, but we have worked with children up to 5 years old. One of the services we offer is sleep coaching. We start with a lot of our clients within the first few days/weeks of their child’s life. Some have us start when their babies are 3–10 months old, maybe when they are returning to work and really need to start sleeping through the night.

What would you say the main benefits of hiring a night nanny are?

My goal is to return the parents to sanity. I want to reduce the stress in their lives so they can enjoy the time they have with their children. Being postpartum, trying to heal, learning to feed your baby—all of that is so hard. We aim to make some of it easier.

For the majority of our clients, that means introducing our sleep coaching program into the equation. I think a lot of people know how damaging it is when THEY aren’t sleeping, but what about that poor baby? It’s desperate to sleep and it NEEDS you to learn their sleep cues so you know when it’s time to put your baby down for a nap and so you can figure out the best bedtime. We help a lot with that.

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Have you faced (or witnessed) any pushback to your services? The mommy wars are brutal, after all. Have any of your clients expressed a fear of judgment from others because they are using your services?

As far as the mommy wars go, the clients that hire us don’t seem concerned—they are contacting us so we can help return a balance to their family. They just want to do what is best for their family, and sleep is an important part of functioning normally!

Sometimes we will face a bit of pushback regarding sleep coaching. Sleep coaching gets a bad rap because people often think of cry-it-out, but that’s not a method we use. What we do is teach the parents how to listen to their baby and how to help their baby sleep. Babies that don’t sleep through the night cry more, they are more irritable … it’s a health thing, and their sleep needs to be a priority too. (We’re talking older babies here, obviously. Newborns still need to wake up every few hours to eat.)

Parents desperately want to help their baby and do what’s best for them regarding sleep, so we teach them how. I’m not concerned with people who don’t see the benefit to what we do. If they’ve got great sleepers and babies that nurse quickly, that’s awesome! But that’s not the reality for many parents.

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