Family Tree Doula Services
Professional Postpartum Support for Today's New Parents


Bits of wisdom for new parents bundled up in a blog!

Postpartum Doula. You're Like a Nanny or Night Nurse, Right?!

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Nanny, night nurses and postpartum doulas are often lumped together under the same profession. In fact, they provide very different levels of care to families with babies or children.

What is the difference between a nanny and a postpartum doula?

A nanny is defined as a person, typically a woman, employed to care for a child in their own home. They are specifically hired to care for the baby or child(ren) only. They are employed by parents and are responsible for tasks related only to the children: cooking, tidying up, cleaning up after and providing care. They often transport the children and tend to them while parents are at work or away. They may receive specific training, but not necessarily. Nannies may remain with a family for many years whereas most postpartum doulas provide service just through baby’s first year.

A postpartum doula is defined by American Pregnancy.Org as follows:

A postpartum doula provides evidenced based information on things such as infant feeding, emotional and physical recovery from birth, mother–baby bonding, infant soothing, and basic newborn care. A postpartum doula is there to help a new family in those first days and weeks after bringing home a new baby.”

A postpartum doula’s focus is on the family as a whole. The baby is not a separate entity to be cared for, but a member of the family unit. Sometimes a postpartum doula’s support may look similar to a nanny, but in reality, the doula is assessing the family’s needs, addressing any questions the parent(s) may have and offering support as the parents grow more confident in their ability. Since doulas are not employees, their services are mutually agreed upon in a business contract.

Included in a postpartum doula’s repertoire, is the trained ability to provide unbiased support, as well as, a non-judgmental listening ear. Doulas are trained in compassion and understanding the stress new parents may be feeling.

The birthing person receives particular attention from a postpartum doula as they navigate recovering from childbirth. Making sure the person recovering from childbirth is fed, hydrated, rested and has had time to themselves, are all part of a doula’s priorities. Caring for the new parent so they can care for their baby may be what the family needs most. A postpartum doula will accommodate this desire and understands that it’s part of the journey to confident parenting. The doula is available to answer questions regarding feeding the baby, diapering, swaddling, and care of the postpartum body.

A postpartum doula is professionally trained to assess (not diagnose) the possibility of a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder, and support the new parents through the process of getting professional care and/or increasing support in the home with additional doula shifts.

The graphic below is a simplified comparison of the two roles and is not intended to be all inclusive:

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What is the difference between a night nurse and a postpartum doula?

Technically, a night nurse is defined as a person who provides care to a patient or patients during the night. In the United States, a night nurse is used as a synonym for night nanny.

A night nurse is often hired to stay awake all night to monitor a medically fragile baby’s needs. Families with babies who require additional medical support can find comfort in having a night nurse on board. A postpartum doula can provide similar support to the family once baby has fewer medical needs. A doula is professionally trained to support the new parents as they navigate the care of their new baby. A postpartum doula NEVER crosses the line into medical care and knows when to suggest more advanced support for the family.

If you are using the term night nurse in lieu of night nanny, then a night nanny’s protocol is similar to the description of “nanny” described above.

Postpartum doulas provide overnight support that encompasses the entire family. (A narrative of a typical overnight postpartum doula shift can be found here.) They are professionally trained in a baby’s sleep, feeding and activity patterns. They are prepared to support the family however they need in order to reduce the chaos that often occurs during their baby’s first year. This includes sleep regressions and feeding difficulties, teething and developmental milestones. A night nanny’s role is to follow the instructions of the parent and care for the baby through the night. A postpartum doula, although caring for the baby to ease a parents’ exhaustion is a primary duty, the doula will also support the parents through their own emotional and physical needs. A doula will also provide information as the parents request to build their confidence.

The postpartum doula who provides overnight support is also likely to offer completion of a few quiet tasks before resting while baby sleeps. A night nurse or night nanny does not provide any light housekeeping or light cooking, or any additional services other caring for the baby.

The overnight doula is also trained to recognize that sleep is imperative to reducing the risk of the development of PMADs. Again, the doula is always performing an ongoing assessment of the family’s needs and offering support that reduces stress and decreases chaos.

The graphic below is not all inclusive, but creates a simple visual of the differences between a night nurse and a postpartum doula:

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As a family of a newborn or more than one newborn, you know what level of care your family needs, yet most new parents have not heard of a postpartum doula. If you’re interested in learning how doulas (like those of us at Family Tree Doula Services) can support you, your baby and your entire family while you begin this crazy life with your new baby, search for postpartum doulas in your area and begin the conversation! We provide a nurture and level of TLC like no other.

~Sheryl Cooksley