art of the pleasure of my job is being in control of my time, but the downside is that I can sometimes be without work (and therefore income) when I am low on clients. Then one afternoon I returned home from some retail therapy to a voicemail on my phone.
It’s the Night Nannies agency with a new job. “She’s called Debbie, she’s a friend of Joanna’s and her baby was two weeks premature. Her maternity nurse can’t start for a month so she needs someone immediately. Are you free for a month?” I call back straight away to find out some more information, although if she’s a friend of Joanna’s, that’s a good reference. It does make me smile that clients always want references for their maternity nurses, but don’t realise that it is reassuring for us to get some feedback on them too! It is also why I always get my jobs through Night Nannies – occasionally I have gone to a job through word of mouth, but if there is any trouble with things like payment, responsibilities or time off, it is really good to have someone else to deal with those issues, leaving me free to do my job without worrying. It’s also useful to brainstorm things with another professional sometimes, too, and I am reassured that the agency reminds me when my CRB disclosure or First Aid certificate needs updating, reminds clients to write references for me and has tied up all the legal requirements – of which there seem to be more each year.
My details are sent off the same day and Debbie calls me that afternoon. We get on very well on the phone and Debbie asks if I would like to start immediately, without bothering with the formality of an interview. I hesitate – I don’t want to land myself in a situation which I can’t get out of, so I suggest that, as it is already Wednesday, I will come tomorrow morning and work for two days and we can review the situation at the weekend.
Debbie’s baby is called Josh, and is only a week old – it is lovely to be back caring for a newborn and a first baby too. It means there is a blank sheet of paper and we can plan routines to fit around Debbie’s idea of herself as a mother. We talk a lot during the first day as Josh is a very sleepy baby – probably because he was premature and still has some catching up to do. Debbie asks about breastfeeding as she didn’t have much help in the hospital. I watch her latch Josh on – the two of them seem pretty competent to me! We discuss the possible difficulties involved with establishing successful breastfeeding and I explain, “It's only natural for you and your baby to take time to get used to breastfeeding. Your body is doing its best to supply your new baby with milk, which may mean your breasts become engorged, producing too much milk and making your breasts leak. In the early days, if your baby has trouble latching on, your nipples may become sore or even start to crack. So it's worth investing a bit of time to get breastfeeding going and asking for help if you are finding it difficult. If your baby is feeding easily it will mean you are less likely to develop infections such as mastitis and thrush. However, it seems as if you didn’t get much help in the hospital because you don’t need it – breastfeeding is the most natural way to feed your new baby, so it isn’t always a struggle!” I go to the kitchen and make Debbie a cup of tea, and bring back a large glass of water too. “One of the best ways of ensuring successful breastfeeding is to make sure you drink enough yourself,” I tell her.
Once the feed is over, Debbie picks Josh up and lays him gently on her shoulder, tapping his back to wind him. She looks at me and asks, “Am I doing this right?” I encourage her to be a little more forceful and I also explain that if she can use this as an opportunity to wake Josh up a little before she puts him back in his Moses basket, she will be helping him to learn to settle himself rather than always expecting her to cuddle him to sleep. It doesn’t matter at the moment, he is still so tiny, but if you can begin to develop good sleep associations for your baby, you will have fewer problems further down the line.
While Josh is asleep we go upstairs to look at his nursery, where I will sleep with him for the time being. One of a mother’s biggest worries is the fear of cot death, also known as SIDS, and I have a host of leaflets regarding best practice which I will show Debbie later. It is acknowledged that, for the first six months, it significantly reduces the possibility of cot death if the baby sleeps in the same room as an adult. This is mainly because the baby will pick up and copy the breathing pattern of the adult, reducing the chance of him simply stopping breathing. There is still a lot we don’t know about SIDS but it happens significantly less now – a reduction of over 70% in the last 20 years, so it is worth reading the literature.
Josh wakes up again around lunchtime and I settle Debbie down again for a feed. She looks a little uncomfortable and we talk about the use of a cushion to bring Josh up to the right height for her to feed comfortably. “You’re going to be spending a lot of time like this over the next few weeks,” I smile at her, “so you might as well be comfortable – we don’t want you to end up with a bad back!” While she relaxes with Josh I head into the kitchen to find something for lunch. Debbie needs to keep her own energy up, so it is important that she eats healthily. I make a chicken salad for us to share and put some rolls into the oven to heat through. While we’re eating, with Josh calmly sleeping beside us in his Moses basket, Debbie apologises for leaving me to make lunch. “I know you’re meant to be looking after Josh,” she says. I laugh – I have come across maternity nurses who only occupy themselves with the baby, but my feeling is that, if the mother is happy, the baby will be happy so my job is easier. I am not so smart that I can’t unload a dishwasher or put on some washing, particularly if Debbie is anchored to her sofa feeding Josh. “Wow!” exclaims Debbie, “this is going to go even better than I’d hoped!” I’m inclined to agree.
For more information on anything mentioned in this article contact:
Night Nannies London:
Contact Nicola Bennett or Anastasia Baker on 020 7731 6168
For information on The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths visit www.fsid.org.uk
or The Department of Health www.dh.gov.uk