Cortney Gibson on the Rise of Newborn Care as a Service

November 7, 2016

Cortney Gibson, newborn care expert, board member of the International Nanny Association and founder of Gibson Newborn Services spoke with us about newborn care and changes being made in the industry to help bring more professionalism and awareness to a very specific area of childcare.

An Interview with Cortney Gibson, Newborn Care Expert

Cortney Gibson, Newborn Care Expert

by Clarke Illmatical

You’ve been in the industry since 1997. You were originally a nanny, how did you transition into newborn care and set up your company?

“I started as a nanny in 1997… I nannied for seven or eight years and always worked for a family with a new baby. New babies are my passion. After helping to raise someone’s children for two or three years at a time, often times, I work for doctors and they would move away and start a new practice or be in at a fellowship and take a full-time job somewhere.

That grief process of having to let go of those kids that I’ve been with every day, fifty hours a week, became overwhelming to me. I was unhappy in my job and not because I didn’t love the kids, I just felt like this impending doom when I would no longer be needed and yet I had all of these feelings of grief because I cared about these families.

I decided to look into this and happen to stumble onto a group of women who take care of babies, I thought ‘This is amazing, this is exactly what I want to do.’ I love taking care of babies, I’m knowledgeable, I can control my own schedule, I can work with the families as long as I wanted and it was perfect… they encouraged me and the in 2004, I started my company and put in my two weeks notice and it’s been crazy every since!

I found that not only do I love taking care of babies, but, I really immersed myself in family dynamics. Sleep training became something I was really good at. I became a sleep consultant. I sort of just continued to define and refine my position. I’m one of the very few integrated practitioners in the country that has this kind of experience. What started out as just a need to control my schedule, became something so much more fulfilling. I’m able to really affect and change the lives of people and making it easier and better and more fun.

You get one or two messages from society in America. Either that parenting is the most blissful, natural, beautiful, easy thing in the world… Or you get the other end of the spectrum, the message that you’ll never sleep again, you’re life is over… how terrible parenting is. I feel like both of them have a little piece of truth in them. I feel like TV, movies, commercials, we just get this message that it either should be really hard or you’re a bad parent because it’s not easy. Neither of those things are necessarily true.

There is really an unrealistic expectation about what real parenting is like. Most of my families, even those who’ve read a lot of books are entirely unprepared. They have no realistic expectations for what a real live baby is going to be like…”

Why is there a sudden need or demand for newborn care?

Interestingly, this is not new. There has always been, since the beginning of time, there have been women who’ve helped new mothers with their babies. It was probably the wealthy, royal families… but in the South, we have had this kind of care that is specific to newborn babies for as long as the United States has been here.

I think what’s new is now, there are a lot of training programs, a lot more people are in this business, a lot of those people are just starting out, so their rates are probably lower because they are interns that have very little experience.

So now, this service that use to be a luxury, is now available to more and more families. I think everyone has always had this kind of help, It’s just that, 50 years,100 years ago, we didn’t live far away from our families.

Our grandparents, mothers, and aunts lived across the street and down the block and those people helped you when you had a baby.

Women didn’t typically work outside of the home 100 years ago. That type of village mentality was there and that is how we were designed.

Human beings are supposed to be part of a village. The other women are supposed to help you with your baby and it’s not like that anymore because women are going to college and have careers and waiting to start a family.

A lot of people, my clients, their parents, the grandparents of the child – they are still working. They aren’t retired. They can’t come and help take care of the babies. We are not supposed to be just a mom-a-dad-and-a-baby. There should be a support system there. Because it’s not naturally occurring anymore, we have to pay for it.

You get a housekeeper, you buy prepared meals, you have a newborn care specialist or postpartum doula, you kind of build your village based on what your need are because we just don’t have familial help like we use to.

From my perspective, I don’t think the United States does enough to support the family structure. Do you think the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is sufficient?

“The United States is certainly far behind most other civilized places as far as family leave goes. It’s a bit embarrassing that there are only a handful of companies who truly offer something that is sustainable and helpful for families.

That’s one of our many problems. We could talk for hours about the infrastructure and the way Americans live, and the way we work twice as hard today, we work 24 hours a day, a small percent of families actually take vacations, whereas other countries take two or three months a year. The entire city shuts down, everyone goes on vacation. Where probably one of the most unhealthy, sleep deprived, we eat food that is not really food, we have a lot of conveniences. There are multiple levels to that.

I think there is a push or demand for reform for paid leave for families. I think it’s going to take, economically, some policy changes in place for companies to be able to afford. It has to be part of the structure…

I do think, because of the industrial nature of the United States, there are pockets of places where time kind of stands still, and people still aren’t near their families and take care of each other. It’s not common across the United States. There are certainly some cultures who stick together more but generally speak, most of my clients, don’t have family near them, certainly don’t have family with them helping, but occasionally, I will see that a grandparent will come and stay for a couple of weeks.

That mentality is just not here. There is this assumption that it should just be a nuclear family, a mom a dad and a baby and a mom should just be able to do it all. That dad’s going to go back to work. There is this idea that women should be able to keep the house and clean and make food and take care of a newborn baby and recover from giving birth…

In China, there is a 40 day period of time where the mother is taken care of and she rarely gets out of bed, she eats a certain diet, it’s a custom, that is meant to help her heal and to nurture her. We just don’t have that here. People are expected to bounce back and go back to work at six weeks, eight weeks, twelve weeks, which is insane.

Breastfeeding rates are going to plummet because it’s very hard to pump at work, even though there are laws in most states to protect women, with nursing at the workplace, I still think women feel like they don’t want to cause anyone any trouble. They don’t want to get in trouble at work. So they don’t throw a fit about not having a private place to pump. I think there’s a lot of problems… It’s not going to be 1950 forever. You’re not going to have this happy housewife and a dad and a baby. It really takes a village.

The kind of support that a new mom needs, if it’s not going to come from her family or her village, her sister who live in the neighborhood, then it needs to come from someone, so that education, a lot of people assume that motherhood and parenting are all very natural. It should just come easily to you.

The part that is instinctual is that you want to protect your baby, you want to nurture your baby, there is an instant bond and love, but you don’t know about how to do the practical stuff.

My mom’s mother taught her how to change diapers and calm a fussy baby. All of those things that are learned skills, our grandparents, and their parents passed those down. This is why I have a job. I’m the one teaching new moms how to do all of these things that they’ve never seen done before. They didn’t grow up next to their aunts and uncle and help raise their cousins. A lot of my clients, this is the first time they’ve ever touched a baby, let alone changed a diaper or fed a baby.”

Let me ask a sensitive question. Have you encountered jealousy from the mother?

“Very rarely. When you are a skilled professional, you’re constantly taking a read how everybody is feeling. I’m going to take my cues from her, if I sense that she does not want to let the baby go, if she needs to have more time with the baby or prefers that maybe I’m only there for the mundane stuff, I’m going to take a cue from her and kind of adjust my care approach, any really good professional is going to do that. This is not me coming in to bulldoze your new motherhood.

It’s about coming in to support whatever she needs to make her happy. I’ve never had a time when I had someone who had jealous feelings.

As a nanny, I was a nanny before I did newborn care and I did feel some tension when the little ones start to talk and call the nanny ‘mama.’ Usually, it’s a different name than they call their mother. It’s a very maternal kind of nickname. I can understand how that would upset a mom.

I feel like most families are so grateful to have someone that their child loves in that way, who trust them and protects them, that they can kind of work through that.

A lot of times with brand new moms. There can be postpartum mood disorders which could feed into that jealous behavior. If a mom has a diagnosis of postpartum anxiety or depression or just felt like the baby didn’t like her… I’m going to better at some of the stuff because I’ve done it for 20 years.

Some parents I feel like, the baby doesn’t like them as much because they can’t do the same things I can. I work through that with them and kind of explain, it takes practice and work through it. I haven’t had any terrible jealousy issues. I do really work hard to read the room and if I feel like the mom doesn’t want to give up her baby, then I just let her know that she can call on me when she needs me and I’ll be folding the laundry until I hear from her.”

What about jealousy from the father? He’s losing physical contact with his wife for a while and all of the attention is on the child. Have you experienced this?

It’s sort of hard for me to tell because I haven’t seen what they were like before. I’m usually only arriving when the baby is born. He may have been detached before my arrival or the babies arrival, it’s hard to tell.

There is a change that happens, I feel like some of it is that men don’t fully understand how to handle a very pregnant wife, then having the baby and what happens afterward. It’s not just a matter of waiting until the six-week appointment.

All men know at six weeks, that’s when she can start having sex again. They all know that. There’s little understanding of what it takes to grow a person in front of you and give birth and all of the things that happen, the hormonal changes and all that. That being said, I think men sometimes get the short end of the stick.

They have the least needs of those three people. The baby is helpless and needs everything, mom is not fully recovered, she needs help. Dad’s fully functioning, he can kind of take care of himself. There is postpartum depression in men. It happens less, but it can happen…

I’ve done a lot of consultations and the baby is maybe six months old and not sleeping well and the mom and the dad have not slept in the same bed since the baby was born, usually because the dad needs sleep so he can go to work, the baby gets up a lot so, there’s a lot of disruption.

Again it comes back to, men aren’t taking time off from work because they can’t afford to. Because companies aren’t giving paid leave, more than a couple of weeks maybe. They’re expected to jump back into their regular routine and they need sleep.

I’ve seen people whose marriage is falling apart, because they’re not communicating and sometimes it’s been an irrational amount of attention that the mom is giving, it’s not usually that but occasionally that could be the case. Sometimes the attention she gives the baby can be because she’s trying to avoid her husband, it can be a lot of different things…. I’ve seen people become more distant. Guys stay at work overtime…”

I notice on your website, that you give courses on sleep training. Why is it that many parents and nannies don’t put an emphasis on sleep patterns and habits?

“That’s a great question. It’s a nationwide problem, we are severely sleep deprived in this country. Adults, teenagers, children, babies, every age range, every economic status, every color, religion, it doesn’t matter, we’re all sleep deprived.

Part of it is because we don’t place a respect on getting a rest. You’re rewarded if you sleep less and you get to work early. You’re rewarded if you can work two part-time jobs and go to school… and you can get all of this other stuff done.

The other thing, technology, we are buried in our phones, computers and so are our children. The more time they spend on those and the less sleep they get, for a couple of reasons. These are some of the main issues.

One of the things that I always point out to families that I’m working with, just like it takes a village mentality, we were not designed to have to sleep train our babies. Humans were designed to carry their babies around on their back while they did their work. Women would all work together to sleep together on the floor of their hut or their cave.

We weren’t designed to sleep in a different room, in a different bed, from our babies, but it’s not safe to sleep on a big fluffy mattress with a bunch of pillows and blankets. It’s not the same as sleeping on the floor, on a grass mat, that’s how we’re supposed to be.

Our society has sort of developed in a way, in what is called attachment parenting – it’s not realistic for some people, it certainly does work for some, there is a whole movement in the United States for attachment parenting, co-sleeping, babywearing, it’s just that it doesn’t work long term for a lot of families.

Somebody has to go back to work, somebody has to run a household. You truly have to be devoted to that way of life. If you plan to do it. If you’re only planning to do it for a short period of time, what you’ll get is a bunch of habits that you’ll have to break later.”

I think more nannies and families would benefit if they joined the INA or go to Nanny Palooza. You’re bringing a level of professionalism to an industry that I feel is unappreciated. Most people don’t appreciate or understand what nannies do, the may only see you as a babysitter. Do you feel that your specialization with newborns brings awareness to the industry as a whole?

“You’re right on the money. There is a lot more understanding now. More than there was 30 years ago before the INA. We have worked very hard to remove the term babysitter from the nanny world, that’s a separate thing, not that a nanny can’t be a babysitter. A babysitter is someone who comes to your house on a Friday evening for a few hours and watches your kids while they’re asleep so you can go to dinner. A babysitter is a very different thing from a nanny.

There are a lot of options, Nannypalooza, there are also online courses, certainly with the INA, our annual conference, but we do promote professionalism and we celebrate the professional career nanny and the newborn care specialist. We started a newborn care specialist track at our conference, this has been seven or eight years ago, so we have full days of just newborn care…

That professionalism that we’ve brought, myself and a handful of ladies sat in a room at a conference one year and we came up with the term ‘Newborn Care Specialist.’ That’s something that we started and the INA backed us and put it out there.

Now it’s more common, it’s an invented term because what we use to call ourselves were baby nurses. Which is illegal in a lot of states because we’re not actually RNs. So, we had to come up with a new term.

The baby nurse term has been around forever. It kind of came over from England. They have maternity nurses there and that’s what they call them. It sort of translated here. But ultimately, it became an issue of, we have to change the industry.

We have to be leaders, we have to say what it is that we do and establish a term that is ours and not related to the medical field. So we did that. With education, with professionalism, we want every nanny who comes in contact with use to have a clear understanding of what is expected of a professional nanny and how she can get better.

How she can continue her education every year because we all have to learn something new. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and every couple of months I learn something new… I think true professionals in this business are always going to be seeking out whatever the latest information is.”

To keep up with Cortney and learn more about her newborn care services visit:

Gibson Newborn Care Services

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