Popularity of night nannies stirs debate


It's the call of duty for all new moms at all hours of the day or night.

"It is magnified at night because you are tired, you are frustrated," said Nicole Duncan, mother.

Nicole Duncan spent four such nights with her newborn son Lander, now two and a half - and found herself at the end of her rope.

"I started really to walk around delirious, in a fog and I wasn't able to have fun during the day, and I wasn't able to have fun at night," said Duncan.

Enter Jana Hartzell, an expert on all of the things Nicole found so foreign.

"How to get your baby to sleep, stop fussing, swaddling, soothing," said Hartzell.

Jana's been a nanny for 25 years; her specialty is newborns at night. She took care of each of Nicole's kids from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. for the first few months of their lives.

"I think that part of being human is knowing your own limits, and that was a limit for me and I really needed to get my sleep so I could be really there for my children," said Duncan.

The night nanny trend has been growing in the Bay Area, as more moms live away from family members who would otherwise help them out. It comes from an aristocratic tradition: the baby nurse, and these days, it's becoming more popular and accepted for working moms. Dr. Christine Carter has been watching the trend.

"I see a lot of anxiety in well-educated parents that they need to do things better than was done for them, and that there really are a lot of experts out there to help them with these things," said Christine Carter Ph.D., Greater Good Science Center.

That expert advice will cost you anywhere from $15 to $40 an hour. But if you can afford it, Carter doesn't think night nannies are a bad idea.

"I think it actually could be very wise for some parents who are really exhausted, sleep affects people in a lot of different ways," said Carter.

But critics are afraid that helping at night may hurt in the end, causing some nursing moms to skip nighttime feedings.

"Prolactin, the hormone that makes milk is highest at night and therefore, if the baby suckles at night, you're going to make more milk and your baby's going to gain more weight," said Linda Brooks, R.N., lactation consultant.

The women at a new mom's group say getting up with your baby is a rite of passage.

"It's just for a finite time in your life so it doesn't seem like it's that hard to me," said Bridgette Lehrer, new mother.

Nicole wasn't able to nurse her babies, and found plenty of opportunities to bond.

"Being there during the day at the time when it's really, really fun and they're looking at you and they're excited and discovering is a completely different experience than when everything's dark," said Duncan.

And while Jana enjoys her job, she's also looking forward to one day passing it off.

"Oh, when I have my own baby, I'm getting a baby nurse, too," said Hartzell.

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