Virtual nanny services are here to help new parents navigate lockdown

Bridget March
·6-min read
Photo credit: svetikd - Getty Images
Photo credit: svetikd - Getty Images

From Harper's BAZAAR

From the pregnancy to birth and beyond, becoming a parent in 2020 comes with a myriad of added pressures. Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, antenatal appointments are currently stripped back and to be attended alone – a rule applicable up until the ‘active labour’ stage of delivery, when a mother’s birth partner can join her only for a few hours. The solitude continues thereafter, with family and friend visits banned in hospitals and – during lockdown – at home. Professional postnatal appointments with health visitors are also not what they were. Indeed, The Guardian reports that during the first UK-wide lockdown only one in 10 parents with children under the age of two saw a health visitor face-to-face. Beyond frustrating for mothers, they feel that a generation of babies born during this time “may be at risk” because they and their parents are not being properly supported in the weeks and months after birth.

All of this I experienced myself recently, a very different reality to when I first became a mother in 2016. So much for the second time around being easy.

But regardless of the pandemic and stretched government services, modern parenthood is challenging enough. Long gone are the days of calling upon ‘a village to raise a child’, as the African proverb goes.

The last century has given rise to the ‘nuclear family’ (like ours), where mum and dad do it alone. “Never in history were parents expected to care for their baby all by themselves,” writes paediatrician Dr Harvey Karp in The Happiest Baby on the Block. Where parents would enlist the help of family, friends and neighbours for housework or childcare (and return the favour later), now asking – or paying – for help comes laden with guilt. In Dr Karp’s opinion this is all wrong.

“Honestly, you’re supposed to have five nannies!” he says, and that doing so is neither an extravagance nor a sign of failure. Essentially, “it’s the bare minimum help that new parents received since time began,” but while seeking assistance may be wise not weak, it can feel near impossible in 2020. Well, for those with the means, the world of virtual childcare services may be the answer.

How do virtual nanny services work?

More affordable than in-person offerings, and ultimately more accessible, virtual nanny services are a business success story of today's Zoomification. One of London’s top nanny agencies MyTamarind didn’t see this coming, but their services transitioned easily online. Offering access to postnatal experts including lactation specialists, maternity nurses and sleep trainers, they can reach more parents anytime, anywhere.

“Now people are much more open to receiving and consuming advice virtually,” founder and CEO Zarja Cibej tells me. Often, she has found that it can empower parents beyond working with a nanny in-person, explaining that “they’re quicker to gain confidence when being hands-on”. Of course, a baby expert on a video call can’t literally soothe your baby to sleep or help them latch onto the breast better, but they can provide you with the practical means to do so.

Desperate to understand why my three-week-old couldn’t nap beyond 20 minutes at a time, newborn sleep clinician Dawn Tame became our virtual nanny via regular video calls over six weeks. Not only did she come up with various plans to help link his sleep cycles (heavily guided by research and analysis of our baby’s personality type), she became my sounding board for every question I’d have otherwise gambled on Google to answer. From understanding sleepy cues and ‘wake windows’ at the crux of our issue to wider help on effective winding, she had practical tips, plus help for something I would have ignored – managing my anxiety with a self-care strategy. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with her again when facing future hurdles.

Indeed, as Cibej puts it, “the service grows with you and your baby” and the flexible packages offer various options at any given point in time – from a check-in here and there, to specialist daily assistance when needed (think sleep regressions, breaking a reliance on pacifiers, navigating teething, weaning…). But the virtual programmes don’t have to stand alone - outside of lockdowns and social distancing measures, they can work alongside in-house services too.

Of course, independent nannies were already embracing digital custom before the Zoom boom of 2020. Instagram plays host to endless specialist accounts promising to solve parenting nightmares – more often than not of the poor sleep variety. Many of these baby consultant services offer access to instructional resources (downloadable or via webinars), and all kinds of trouble-shooting tips, but usually even the paid-for content won’t be bespoke. Still, many swear by plans imparted via popular accounts like Taking Cara Babies. Run by a certified paediatric sleep consultant and neonatal nurse offering online baby sleep classes, the page has well over a million followers on Instagram alone.

Other accounts offer a mixture of free support for all and access to personalised plans. Take Amelia Peacock (aka Millie Poppins), a London-based nanny – or ‘baby care specialist’ – who, in addition to her traditional hands-on job, offers online courses and one-to-one coaching packages. After an initial Zoom meeting I had two weeks of text support from Peacock, to help cement a routine for my son at four months. Gently transitioning from breastfeeding to sleep became a focus, and I’m equipped with a three-phase plan to help us get there. Her ethos too comes with prioritising wellbeing for mothers as much as that of encouraging better habits for babies.

Coaching women to help them thrive as new mums is something that’s become increasingly important to Peacock’s business. Even before this year she noticed a concerning lack of support for mothers in regard to their emotional wellbeing and mental health, she tells me.

“Creating various levels of online support, gentle guidance and a reassuring safe space for mothers was always my plan but the pandemic really fuelled this. Being able to virtually connect with mothers, who are completely overwhelmed, and to acknowledge, guide and encourage them has been the most rewarding part of 2020 for me.”

Peacock’s gentle approach will resonate with many, especially during these turbulent times. And for those looking for stricter sleep trainers, or another form of specialist support, Instagram will likely bring someone suitable to your attention. For those overwhelmed by avenues to go down an agency may be the better option – not only are pros vetted to be qualified for a specific job, but finding the perfect partnership is their specialism. Resonance, a rapport and trust are key to an effective nanny-family match – whether working in-person or online.

So, while lockdowns or simply the constructs of modern life have left us without the help of extended family (or, unimaginable, ‘a village’), there is assistance on demand – and it can come without a hefty price tag. Safe, convenient, and with the potential to significantly improve new parents’ lives in ever stressful circumstances, virtual nanny services look set to stay. I for one am very grateful.

You Might Also Like