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Night nanny vs. night nurse: How they help and what they cost

Overnight child care specialists like a night nanny help newborns and families with their sleep schedules

night nanny

Ask any new parent and they’ll tell you: One of the most difficult adjustments after having a child is navigating the erratic, sometimes nonexistent, sleep patterns of newborns. One way to clock a little more shut-eye? Consider hiring either a night nanny or a night nurse — the latter formally being known as a newborn care specialist. 

“Newborn care specialists generally care for newborns either overnight or work around the clock independently, with minimal guidance from parents,” explains Dr. Amna Husain, a pediatrician at Pure Direct Pediatrics in Marlboro Township, New Jersey. “They’re familiar with normal newborn habits and can be a big help to families especially in need of support, such as those with multiples or premature infants.”

Wondering about hiring a night nanny or night nurse? Here, experts break down the difference between the two, in terms of cost and other must-know info for families. 

What is a night nanny?

A night nanny typically refers to a professional nanny who steps in to offer child care overnight. Night nannies don’t necessarily have formal training or certifications in terms of newborns and their sleeping and eating patterns. However, depending who you hire, they may have logged years of hands-on child care experience, including work with newborns and infants. That said, a night nanny can offer beneficial, much-needed support when it comes to easing some of mom and dad’s workload. 

“A night nanny is someone who isn’t trained in newborn care, but who has newborn experience,” explains Kim Morgan, an Elite Certified Newborn Care Specialist, parent educator, sleep coach and the International Nanny Association’s 2020 Nanny of the Year. She adds, “Night nannies don’t provide education or referrals to parents.” 

Additionally, night nannies are usually with families — in varying capacities — for the long haul whereas night nurses are short-term (more on this in a bit). “Night nannies typically work with families longer than night nurses, and this is often an add-on to their day work,” notes Andrea Hedley, executive director and founder of the Newborn Care Specialist Association (NCSA).

What is a night nurse?

First thing’s first: A night nurse is an outdated term for a newborn care specialist (NCS). And much like the title suggests, an NCS is an expert when it comes to caring for newborns.

“The primary role of an NCS is to take care of all newborn-related duties, such as swaddling, feeding, burping, diapering, comforting, sterilizing of bottles and breast pump parts and possibly laundry for baby,” Morgan explains. “In addition, they’re there to give the new parents time to rest, work and not feel so overwhelmed while gradually adjusting to their new normal and having a new baby in the home.” She adds, “Generally, they don’t perform household chores.” 

According to Hedley, newborn care specialists usually start the day a new baby comes home from the hospital or the day of a homebirth, and they work to help new families get settled in and establish good feeding and sleeping habits.

“They typically work 24/7 or nights for up to three to four months, taking on full care of the newborn overnight, so the parents can rest,” Hedley explains. “NCS are highly trained to educate and empower the parents in those first few months with their baby, which often feels overwhelming.”

Are newborn care specialists trained nurses?

Generally speaking, an NCS — or night “nurse” — isn’t a registered nurse, though there are exceptions. “Most NCS are not licensed practical or registered nurses,” Morgan explains. “Though some hold RN degrees and nursing degrees, and others may be certified or trained lactation consultants, lactation educators or may even hold an International Board Certified Lactation Credential (IBCLC).” 

Additionally, Hedley notes that some NCS may be certified in sleep training/conditioning or have experience as postpartum doula and/or birth doulas. “Many also have qualifications, such as working with multiples, premature infants, car seat safety, infant development and maternal mental health,” she adds. 

How long do you need a night nanny or nurse?

Families choosing to go with a nanny almost always wind up using them longer, as their roles don’t solely pertain to newborns. For families enlisting an NCS, there’s a range.

“Some families book an NCS for one week and some until the baby is sleeping through the night, which can be three to six months,” points out Pam “Mimi” Small, a newborn/infant care consultant with Calm Baby RN.

Ultimately, how long you choose to use an NCS depends on your family’s needs. “Families with multiples or moms who delivered via C-section may want their NCS longer, as well as families where one parent has to return to work soon after the baby’s birth,” Morgan says. “The average time an NCS stays is 12 to 16 weeks, but some even stay for a year.”

What hours do newborn care specialists work?

According to Small, NCS can work days, overnights or “24s,” which is an around-the-clock contract. However, she notes, the following are the most popular shifts:

  • 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
  • 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. 
  • 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.
  • 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. 

In the case of a 24, Hedley explains that NCS normally require a four- to six-hour break usually taken first thing in the morning when the parents wake up. “They’ll also lightly sleep when the baby sleeps at night,” she notes. “That said, all aspects of any contract are negotiable between the family and the newborn care specialist they hire.”

“NCS are happy to work whatever hours a family feels they need,” Hedley continues. “But often, this is overnight care, so a new parent can rest and recover from birth or adapt to new parenthood if the baby is adopted or born via surrogate.”

Do NCS duties differ for breastfeeding and bottle-feeding moms?

Small points out that, ultimately, NCS are there to support mom in whichever method she chooses to feed the baby. However, non-nursing moms have the opportunity to sleep through the night and typically “won’t see the baby until the end of the NCS shift.”  

“For breastfeeding moms, NCS will bring the baby to mom or have mom come to the nursery when baby is ready to eat,” Small says. “Once baby is done eating, the NCS will burp and change the baby and get the baby back to sleep. When mom is nursing, some NCS use the time to tend to the baby laundry or wash bottles.”

How much do night nannies get paid?

Nanny costs can vary depending on a number of different factors, including the type and quality of care provided and the city and state where you live. For a close estimate of what a night nanny may cost, you can research the current average rates by location, experience level and number of children with our rates calculator

Using the calculator, we pulled some sample data to help you get a general sense of your approximate hourly and weekly costs based on your location. 

Average cost comparison for full-time nanny with 2-5 years’ experience for one child (40 hours/week)

CITY, STATEHOURLYWEEKLY
Montgomery, Alabama$11.75$470
Waukee, Iowa$12.50$500
Phoenix, Arizona$15.50$620
Chicago, Illinois$15.75$630
Brooklyn, New York$16.75$670
Los Angeles, California$17$680
Source: Babysitting rates calculator (May 2021)

How much do night nurses get paid? 

“Rates for NCS will vary depending on where you live, but as a general rule of thumb, an NCS tends to be more expensive than a regular day nanny by about 25-30% in most markets,” Hedley says.

“Rates in the U.S. tend to be between $20-$45 per hour, with some anomaly markets, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, seeing as high as $65-$75 per hour. These rates, even within the same market, are highly variable based on the background of the newborn care specialist and the demand for their services.”

Do you tip a night nurse?

If you hire an NCS through an agency, Small points out that it’s best to find out what their policies are on tipping (freelance NCS aren’t usually tipped). In general, though, it isn’t customary to tip an NCS. “I have never been tipped,” Hedley says. “But I do get invited to a lot of birthday parties as babies I have worked with grow up — and this means more to me than any tip ever could!”

Is a night nanny or night nurse worth it?

The only person who can decide — emotionally and financially — if a night nanny or an NCS is worth it is you. That said, if you have the means, it’s something to consider. “By no means is it necessary to enlist in the support,” Husain says. “But certainly, for some families, this can be worthwhile overnight while everyone’s adjusting.”