What’s an overnight?

I have been hearing this question a lot lately so I thought I would write a quick post (spoiler alert quick didn’t end up meaning short) to help explain my overnight work. As a Postpartum Doula I offer Overnight Postpartum Doula services, so what does an overnight shift look like? Well, the honest answer is it depends. All shifts vary greatly based on the family I am working for and from there change day by day based on their current needs. Here are a few very general examples to give you an idea.

My first example would be working for a family with a newborn and mom is breastfeeding. Everything is going well but the sleep deprivation is starting to really impact the family so they decide to hire me to provide some relief. I come over at 10pm and check in with whichever parent is still awake on how baby’s day has been. We have an area set up in the living room, basement, or spare room for baby to sleep (bassinet, playpen, etc). The parent will head up to bed and I take over. If baby is awake I will get them to sleep (assuming they are fed) or if they are asleep I will start any other duties. Some families will leave laundry to fold or dishes to do. Once baby wakes up I typically change them and bring them up to mom to breastfeed. Each family has different preferences on how they want to be woken up and we have the routine figured out ahead of time. I either stay with mom to chat and help with making sure baby has good positioning or I let mom and baby be and head back downstairs. Once baby is finished feeding I bring them back downstairs to be burped and go back to sleep. Whether baby goes to sleep easily or needs some rocking and soothing, mom is able to get back to bed while I take care of baby. I repeat this process throughout the night so that the family is able to get as much sleep as possible, while still breastfeeding the little one. If baby is having a fussy period I will calm and soothe them, protecting mom’s rest and only disturbing her if baby needs to eat. Some parents worry that because mom is breastfeeding that overnight shifts won’t make a difference but I have had many breastfeeding clients find overnight shifts extremely beneficial.

Another example would be working for a family with a newborn who is formula-feeding. Perhaps this family has older children as well so they want to ensure they are getting enough sleep overnight to keep up with the other children’s needs during the day. With this family arrival and check in would be the same and I would have a similar set up with a separate space for me to take care of the baby away from the parent’s bedroom. The difference is that I would take over care of the baby while the family is asleep including feeding, changing, soothing etc. I would follow the parents instructions for all of baby’s care. I could also do other things such as sterilizing bottles, preparing formula, doing dishes, and laundry while baby is asleep. Mom is able to sleep soundly knowing baby is well-cared for but still within their home in case there is a fussy time where baby just really needs mom.

So why do families hire overnight support?

There are a whole host of reasons a family might hire overnight support. How many times have you heard a new mom say “If I could just get some sleep I would be able to function”? Some other reasons include:

-sleep deprivation (normal newborn behaviour includes needing to feed multiple times throughout the night)

-older siblings so mom isn’t able to sleep during the day

-cesearn birth, mom needs more rest to recover

-twins or multiples

-baby has colic, reflux, or other health concerns

-a parent is struggling with a postpartum mood disorder

-lack of outside support, perhaps extended family and friends live far away so the new parents are isolated and need extra support

-one of the parents is working during the day and needs to ensure they get adequate rest to safely perform their job

-partner travels for work and is away overnight

Not all Postpartum Doulas offer overnight shifts and clients find it is sometimes hard to find. I understand that it can be a hard adjustment for a Doula to work overnights and scheduling is difficult especially if they have their own children to arrange childcare for. However, I can clearly recall struggling at night and yearning for the morning to come with my newborns. The night can be such an isolating time for new moms that I feel it is an important service to offer. Even an occasional overnight support shift can offer a family a refreshed outlook and a break from the fog of sleep deprivation. I love sharing the gift of a good night’s rest, because what parents couldn’t use a little more sleep?


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