What is the difference between a doula, a nanny, and a babysitter?

How do I know if I need a postpartum doula, a nanny, or a babysitter? We get this question all the time. Let’s break it down.


Think of it this way. The babysitter is there for a short period of time, for a very specific reason - keep the children alive, perhaps feed them a simple meal, and follow the schedule for the time they are there. Babysitters are great for occasional times that parents need to be out of the house without the kids. Who doesn’t love a solid babysitter?


A nanny knows the rhythms of the day and takes care of the kids while the parents take care of other needs, like providing for the family or buying groceries. A nanny’s primary responsibility is childcare, and they may also do daily maintenance tasks so the house isn’t a wreck when parents get home. Generally, nannies spend most of their time with only the kids and are focused on one family’s preferences and habits. A smart person once said that a nanny naturally develops a connection with the children, but often miss out on a deeper connection to the parents, who could use it just as much.

There is also a category called “night nanny” or “night nurse.” There is no credential or training necessary to use these titles, and the sole duty of the night nanny or night nurse is to stay in the room with the baby and soothe or feed them through the night.


  • Support a broad range of families, which allows them to know all the ins and outs of the world of baby stuff. There are a lot of tips, tools, toys, and taboos to filter through, and a doula can give you the low-down on most of these.
  • Set parents up with essential building blocks of baby care: swaddling, feeding, sleep strategies, how to give the baby a bath, how to get as much sleep as possible, and what is in the range of “normal” and when to call the pediatrician or help for parents.
  • Help parents learn to care for a newborn with confidence and are up to date on all AAP and ACOG safety guidelines. Chicagoland Doulas, LLC only has postpartum doulas that are also expertly trained Infant Care Specialists - our clients deserve the best!
  • Help the household run - day or night. Light housework goes a long way, and can ease the “have to” parts of parenting so you can engage in more of the “get to” parts.
  • Care for the baby overnight so that parents can be fully rested by day. If the baby is breastfed, the doula can even bring the baby to the parents to feed, and bring them back to the nursery so sleep is as uninterrupted as possible. Overnight doulas are great at following the family’s plan for consistency with sleep shaping and making good nighttime habits.
  • Are there for emotional support. This one is key. When your whole life changes and you have a new identity as a parent (or your heart is stretching to fit another child into it), it can be overwhelming at times. Having someone there to talk through all these complicated feelings with who would never judge you can make a huge difference. Heck, even having someone there who knows what you went through to bring a life into the world and all the details of recovery is huge. Whether it’s the first couple of weeks or several months after your baby is born, sometimes all you need is to sit and talk with someone on your own couch who gets your family and what you’re going through.
  • Last on this list, but not least, postpartum doulas also make great home cooks! For example, they can get groceries, make dinner for the family, and make a week’s worth of individual freezer meals all while parents work, sleep, or cuddle with the baby. Magic? Yes. Reality? Yes!

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