The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Would you hire someone to be with your baby at night?

What’s so wrong with hiring a night nurse? (Bigstock Photo)

When my still-young children were newborns, I had no idea there was such a thing as a night nurse. Even four years ago, this just didn’t seem like an option. And I will admit that the first time I heard about it, I balked. Would I want someone else to feed my baby throughout the night? If I did that, I’d feel like I wasn’t mom enough (to borrow a newly popular phrase). But I now wonder how much better those early days would have been if we had had someone to help at night a bit. Would I been so foggy and, honestly, sick all the time? Would I have been more present for my newborns? I’m guessing yes.

Here, Denise Stern, founder of Let Mommy Sleep, wonders why a night nurse is so controversial, and why this one thing is causing such vitriol.


Recently, my baby nurse agency was lucky enough to be featured on the local news here in Washington D.C. It was a beautiful piece about first time parents of twins and how our nurses supported them as they brought their babies home from the NICU. The premise was basically “Local mom starts company to help other local moms.”

That’s it.

The story about having an overnight night nurse generated so much controversy on the evening news that the network ran the piece again on the morning chat show. Then again on the 5 p.m. news. Then again over the weekend.

When the station put the promo to our story up on their Facebook page, the post had more engagement than stories about the middle school sex-ed book with full illustrations, the girl selling her virginity on the internet and a post which specifically asked for inflammatory comments.

Let that sit with you for second.

Professional caregivers nurturing first-time parents through the postpartum period generated more hate and strong feelings than showing sex to 11-year-olds. Taking a shift to help the parents whose twins get up to feed 24 times in 24 hours is more controversial than prostitution. And allowing a mother to heal from a C-section made more people comment than a post that specifically ASKED for comments. Some of the comments were:
“This is way over rated, if you have a baby grow up and take care of it. This is why we have so many problems with kids today…”

To which we respond, “Yes, you are right. Using a professional nurse for overnight newborn care is EXACTLY what is wrong with kids today. It’s pretty much the first stop on the road to prison, just like going to that expensive private preschool is a guaranteed ticket to Harvard.”

“Hmmmm. I hope someone doesn’t pose as a nurse and take someone’s baby!”

Our answer, “What a valid concern! There is such a big problem in this country with people dressing up as nurses and stealing babies (insert sarcasm.)” Besides having decades of newborn and clinical experience, the staff is vetted, licensed and background checked; the same way they are in a hospital.

“Wow. What has this world come to? It sure has gotten pretty lazy. Smh. I would never pay for something like this.”

To which we say, “The world? The WHOLE world? We will tell you about what’s going on in the world. Home visits after childbirth by health-care professionals are provided in all northern and western European countries. In the Netherlands, a continuous home care program is covered by insurance and includes care for children, mothers, and housework services. In Taiwan, mothers can choose to stay in a private maternity center for weeks where mothers and nurses are taken care of by nurses, and the majority of new moms in China stays home and is cared for by family members for one month postpartum. Perinatal and postpartum care? Boy are THEY lazy! SMH.”

Snarky comments (and facts) aside, a baby nurse service is not a service for the elite.

It’s important to note that 100 percent of the time, parents want a partner and temporary support person for a few nights or weeks because they have no family help. They don’t want a parental replacement. We’ve been with hundreds of families and I can tell you we’ve never had a parent — literally not one — who “just doesn’t feel like getting up at night.” It’s the opposite– parents want to do everything they can for baby and sometimes this means reaching out for help.

Commonly, we see situations where mom has no maternity leave or is up against the clock of a ridiculously short maternity leave. Or, a partner who has no family leave, and it’s up to Mom to do day and night shifts without relief. Often we see that baby has reflux and takes 45 minutes to eat, needs to be held upright for 45 minutes, and then gets up another 45 minutes later to feed again. All day and all night!

We see parents that have medical conditions exacerbated by lack of sleep, or parents with another child who has special needs and requires extra parental care. We see moms who are so dedicated to breastfeeding, but their production is down. Everyone keeps telling her the best way to up her production is to get some rest. But, ironically, she has no time to rest.

Plus, we see parents with multiples. Just managing two feeds for two babies who eat every two hours (yes, that’s 24 feeds in 24 hours) is extremely difficult.

Many parents also crave the security of someone who has cared for a child before. They need some confidence and have no one who can answer their questions. (Except Auntie Internet—and she can lead to more confusion.)

I started my company based on the very personal experience of having medical complications when my twin daughters were born, my son was 17 months old, and my husband had no paternity leave. I was a new mom falling off the cliff due to lack of confidence, poor health and no rest. Here in the richest, most powerful country in the world we’re conditioned to accept that feeling like an unhealthy failure is not only normal, but a right of motherhood passage. This “Mom Hazing” can be pretty brutal, but if you try to take a healthier route, you’d better not tell anyone because you’ll be sneered at by all the “varsity moms.“ Surely we can do better than this.

Stern is a working mother and frequently burning the midnight oil as the president of the ironically named business, Let Mommy Sleep. Through her efforts and educational outreach, she is working to revolutionize post-partum and perinatal care in the United States.

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