A nanny provides child care within the children's family setting. Traditionally, nannies were servants in large households and reported directly to the lady of the house. Today, modern nannies, like other domestic workers, may live in or out of the house, depending on their circumstances and those of their employers. There are many employment agencies that specialize in childcare.
In the 19th and early 20th century, the position was usually known as a "nurse", and was, as for many childcare jobs, invariably female. (Originally, the hired woman would have been expected to breastfeed the infant, a role known as a wetnurse.) In a great house (such as an English country house or town house), the nurse was a senior member of the household staff and ran her own domain, a suite of rooms called the nursery, supported by at least one assistant, known as a nursemaid (or nurserymaid). Because of their deep involvement in raising the children of the family, nannies were often remembered with great affection and treated more kindly than the junior servants. Nannies may have remained in the employment of the same aristocratic or gentry family for years, looking after successive generations of children.
Nannies in colonial times spent their lives in the homes of their masters, often from childhood till old age, taking care of more than one generation, depending on the duration of the post. It was not uncommon for these nannies to be brought along with the family away from their native country when administrative officers were posted "home" or to another colony.
A more recent addition to the role of the nanny is that of the night nanny. Sleep specialists or consultants typically work with older babies and children. The night nanny usually works with a family anywhere from one night to seven nights per week. A night nanny generally works with children from newborn to five years of age. A night nanny can provide a teaching role, helping parents to establish good sleeping patterns or troubleshooting the sleeping patterns of a child. Roles and qualifications vary between countries. The Night Nanny works together with the family's requirements and philosophies. The qualifications of a night nanny are usually in mothercraft nursing (see sleep guidance specialist or early childhood development). Pay rates vary from country to country but are usually well paid in comparison to the general nanny, as the night nanny is seen as a specialist or expert in their field.
In the US these specialty maternity nannies are known as Newborn Care Specialists (disassociating this specialty from medically qualified nursing). They are highly experienced in all aspects of newborns aside from medical issues. They might work 24 hours a day, seven days per week, but most work five nights/days a week for the first three months of a newborn's life. The role can consist of assisting parents with feeding guidance, nursery set up, premature infant, multiples, colic, reflux, and sleep guidance/training. There are various training organizations that offer non-accredited certifications, however, in an unregulated field parents should ensure that the qualifications of their maternity nanny are legitimate and accredited. The Newborn Care Specialist Association is one of many self-appointed certification entities. Some doulas specialize in postpartum care for mother and baby. Another related job is Perinatal assistant.
There are a number of national and international professional associations representing nannies and nanny agencies. The International Nanny Association (INA) was founded in 1985. INA is a non-profit organization which provides an educational association for nannies with placement, employment, and professional support. The Alliance of Professional Nanny Agencies (APNA) was founded in 1993. It is a non-profit organization that promotes professionalism in the nanny placement industry. In June 2012 the Australian Nanny Association (ANA) was formed in Australia with the aims of having professional nannies included in the regulated government subsidized childcare scheme of the country. ANA is a volunteer run, not for profit association that also hopes to change some public misconceptions about nannies, encourage professionalism and be a source of support to nannies and the families who employ them.
In the United States, no formal qualifications are required to be a nanny. Nannies in the United States can earn specialized Childcare Diplomas and Certifications from Amslee Institute. Amslee Institute offers 5 programs that are licensed by the Florida Department of Education, Commission of Independent Education, 5951. US Nannies also have access to online CACHE Endorsed Training created by 2004 International Nanny Association Nanny of the Year and parenting author Michelle LaRowe. This training is offered through a partnership with NannyTraining.com and Nanny Stella, Inc., the only US Based CACHE Endorsed Training Centre for the early years.
Various television programs feature real nannies, many of whom help parents discipline children. These include Abismo de pasion (in Spanish), Nanny 911, Supernanny, and Take Home Nanny.