Being woken every night by a crying baby in the first months of parenting is a rite of passage, but one that most people keenly anticipate coming to an end.
Not Leanne Girdwood. For almost 20 years she’s been working overnight in private homes, feeding and settling other people’s babies while parents catch up on sleep.
Girdwood says there’s a range of reasons clients book her services. Parents may need help settling twins or triplets, while others struggle with postnatal anxiety or depression. For many though, Girdwood simply provides respite from the sheer exhaustion the early days of parenting can bring.
“Nothing can prepare you for the bone-weary tiredness you’ll experience when providing for the needs of a newborn, and the flow-on effect that tiredness has on every aspect of your daily life in those first few months,” Girdwood says.
She began her career in the 1980s as a trained mothercraft nurse, working with babies and parents in postnatal wards. After becoming a mother herself, Girdwood identified community need for more home-based support and began working overnight with families through a nanny agency. She now takes bookings directly through her Melbourne-based business, Mothercraft Care.
“As a society, we should be much more prepared to provide support to new parents,” she says. “There’s so much pressure to be the perfect parent, with the perfect child and a pristine home.”
While working nights doesn’t suit everyone, Girdwood says the only issue for her is staying quiet while everyone in the house is asleep. After settling a baby, she reads or knits using the dim light from her phone. “I guess it seems like a long time to be awake and alone and responsible, but I’m used to it.”
If parents do surface during the night, they often pick Girdwood’s brain for advice. “Some mums with anxiety have trouble sleeping and I’ve had some great middle of the night chats about life with some of them over the years.”
A lack of social support combined with the intensity of the newborn period prompts some parents to reach out to Perth night nanny Caroline McMahon. She says some of her clients are so socially isolated, they don’t have anyone to call up for a coffee and a chat.
“They don’t have that little village around them to come in and help.They just get quite fearful of that lack of support.” In some cases their distress is very apparent. “I’ve come to women who are waiting on the front doorstep with a screaming baby, and just thrust the baby at me.”
McMahon was working as a midwife when she noticed the mothers she’d supported in hospital kept calling her for advice after they’d gone home. She started up an in-home baby sleep support business, Caroline’s Angels (with business partner Caroline Radford), which quickly became busy.
McMahon says her midwifery experience and links to the medical community are invaluable in her night nanny role. At times, she’s the first to suspect a parent may have severe postnatal mental health issues.
“We might have been told there’s a bit of depression, and in actual fact we’ve got quite a non-functioning mother. It’s then up to us to support them in seeking further help.”
McMahon extends her expertise to expectant parents too, running workshops for parents-to-be to help build realistic expectations of how chaotic life can be with a new baby.
“Look, it’s a really unsettling time. It’s a process. [Becoming settled] just doesn’t happen quickly and we educate our families that it’s quite normal,” she says.
But while there’s still a need for overnight care, McMahon will continue helping exhausted parents get a good night’s sleep. “We’re like Father Christmas turning up. We get such a lovely response. It’s a beautiful job.”
The next you can see Carolines Angels live are
- Perth Baby Sleep Workshop Event – Wednesday October 11th 10am Telethon Speech and Hearing Centre
- Melbourne Baby Sleep Workshop Event – Tuesday October 17th 10am Abbostsford Convent
Thanks to Dymocks Whitford City for hosting us at our book signing for ‘5 Steps To Sleep – For Babies and Toddlers’ at the reopening
of Westfield Whitford City – Saturday 23rd October. It was great meeting lots of new faces and very cute babies and toddlers!
We look forward to seeing you at Dymocks Whitford City for our book signing event on Saturday 23rd September at 1.30pm.
Come and say hello!
We loved being part of this week’s “Yin and Yang” feature in ‘The West Australian”. Thanks William Yeoman for the great pic and for telling the story of who we are.