Overnight Baby Care: A Postpartum Doula's Diary
It’s 2:34 in the morning. I hear my phone vibrate. I’ve been laying here debating getting up to let the cat in, or just staying put. The cat meows and the blue light on my phone flashes. I let the cat in and, because I’m a curious person, I MUST look at my phone.
It’s a text from a new dad. “We’re having a tough time. When can you do an overnight shift?” I recognize right away that it took a lot for dad to send an “SOS” text. They must be having a rough time. These are the urgent requests that need replied to ASAP.
8am - I text dad back suspecting he is awake and has begun his day at work. “I have an opening tonight.“, Dad instantly replies, “Yes, but please check with my wife.”
9am - I text the new mom and receive an immediate, “YES! Thank you!”
After a mid-day nap to prepare for the night ahead, I pack my bag with a few of my overnight necessities: toothbrush, phone charger, notepad, pen, blanket (just in case), socks, snacks and coffee. Either I’ll be hunkered down for the night, or it could be filled with a baby who won’t sleep. I know to be prepared.
7:55pm – After knocking, dad opens the door with a relieved look on his face.
“We’re so glad you’re here.”, he says while he eats his dinner from a bowl in his hands. That bowl and his hurried response are my first indications of how tired and stressed this new family is.
I take off my shoes, put on my footie socks and wash my hands. He waves me upstairs where I find an exhausted new mom breastfeeding her 1-month old baby while her dinner gets cold on the nightstand. I hesitate to ask, but start with the standard “How are you?”
She tells me how the baby won’t settle unless on the breast and how she has hit the exhaustion “wall”.
We talk about her goal for the night and, it’s no surprise to me that she wants to get as much sleep as she can. I suggest a plan; they approve it and then the emotions come out. She tells me her worries, how she felt in that moment the night before when her husband decided to text me. How the tears and the stress and the sleeplessness were more than she could handle. He sits nearby saying how helpless he had felt in that moment and had done the only thing he could think of that would help: text their postpartum doula. I ask if I can reheat her dinner. No, she is ready to eat and go to sleep. She hands me their sweet freshly fed baby and I say goodnight.
8:30pm – My little charge is wide awake, so we head downstairs to take out some frozen breastmilk for the next feeding, assess the bottle situation, and rinse the dinner dishes. I open the fridge to see what is available to make if I have time to make breakfast. I find some easy staples to work with and hope that I have time to cook up some warm goodness before I leave in the morning. We’ll see. It all depends on how well the baby in my care sleeps.
9pm - The baby is beginning to fuss. I change the diaper, swaddle in their favorite swaddler, and try the pacifier. I shush the baby over the white noise machine and rock while gently patting. Their baby is tired and falls asleep. It takes two times trying to lay the baby down. Now that the baby is sleeping soundly in the crib, I creep downstairs, sterilize the pump supplies from earlier in the day, run the dishwasher and load the baby laundry. While I wait for the microwave sterilizer to finish, I tidy up the small living room.
I do things, that as a new parent, would make me happy to wake up to.
11:05pm – I creep downstairs, put hot tap water in a coffee mug and heat the breastmilk for the upcoming feed. While the bottle heats up, I switch the laundry to the dryer and open the door for a bit of fresh air to help keep me awake. I see the baby stirring in the monitor. I head upstairs.
11:15pm – The baby’s mom and I have agreed that I will feed the baby this time and wake her for the second of 3 nighttime feeds. I keep a small nightlight on and lift the baby from the crib, being careful not to interact too much. I want the baby to know it’s nighttime and time to sleep instead of being social. The diaper is changed, the bottle is fed, the baby is swaddled, rocked and placed in the crib with a pacifier. The pacifier quickly gets spit out, but the baby sleeps. It’s time for me to rest while the baby sleeps, so I curl up on the daybed in the nursery and doze off. Since baby’s on my watch, I find it hard to sleep, but finally doze off somewhere after midnight.
2am - Baby is ready to eat again. After changing the diaper, I quietly walk into the parents’ room and assist mom in getting set up to breastfeed. She asks how her baby is doing. I keep my answer short and let her know it’s going well, and I’ll update her in the morning. To help me stay awake, I check on the drying baby clothes in the garage and restart the dryer.
2:20am - “All done” her text says. I quietly swoop the baby away, re-swaddle, and rock with a pacifier. It takes a bit longer for the baby to be ready to fall asleep this time. There is a lot of gas going on. I calmly and quietly rub the baby’s back and try a couple different positions.
3am - Finally the baby sleeps and I place them in their crib. I lay down to rest again, but the baby loudly grunts and snorts, but stays asleep, for the next 2 ½ hours. I doze. Baby grunts.
4:50am - It’s time to eat again. I’ve already gone downstairs to prepare the next bottle by defrosting and heating the breastmilk bottle. We repeat our earlier routine, but this time, there’s no going back to sleep. Baby’s eyes are wide open after eating, so we head downstairs to hang out while I prepare breakfast. I don’t have much time and I want to get baby back to sleep before I leave so mom can sleep longer too. I prepare a simple warm breakfast, wash the bottles, gather the pump supplies and head upstairs.
5:45am - The baby is fussy and needs a bit more burping. After releasing a huge burp and passing some very loud gas, this sweet baby sleeps swaddled with a pacifier in their crib.
5:55am – I gently rap on the parents’ bedroom door, am welcomed in, and find mom awake and sitting up in bed. I hand her the monitor, the pump supplies and ask if she wants some warm breakfast in bed or to go back to sleep. Her rested eyes light up and she asks for breakfast. I run downstairs, remember to send her my notes for the night via text and take breakfast to her.
She smiles, looks at her baby in the monitor and says, “thank you”. I reply with my usual response, “My pleasure.”
Because it is.
6:05am – I let myself out, locking the door behind me. I set a reminder to send the parents some notes they have requested about the sleeping and eating patterns they are experiencing with their baby. They want some useful strategies. We are a team after all.
7am - I crawl into bed for a couple hours of sleep before beginning the rest of MY day. I’m tired, but I know that what just happened did this family a world of good. I’ve left them better than I found them. They’re ready to face today and are rested enough to do so. I smile and fall asleep within minutes.