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Children, Young People and Families

Parenting young babies whilst self isolating and social distancing

Following recently announced restrictions for mothers due to give birth, Dr Abigail Wright offers some advice for parents and carers dealing with new babies and young children.

08 April 2020

By Division of Educational and Child Psychology

Concerns about expectant and new parents/carers feeling ‘isolated’ already existed prior to this pandemic.

Research by the British Red Cross and the Co-op carried out in 2018 found that over 80% of mums under 30 feel lonely ‘some of the time’, and over 40% feel lonely ‘often’ or ‘always’.

For individuals who are due to give birth and/or parent a young baby, COVID-19 has potential to heighten an already naturally anxiety provoking time.

It is therefore important that parents who are preparing to bring children into the world during this pandemic are able to adapt their expectations.

They have to try and get used to the realisation that their prenatal period, the birth of their child, their child’s first days of life, and their postnatal and paternity/maternity period are going to significantly differ from what they once thought.

It is no wonder that many caregivers are expressing their concerns and anxieties about what they feel that they are going to “miss out” on with their new babies, and the impact this will have on their wellbeing – e.g. meeting their family members and friends, making new friends, attending baby groups, etc, all of which are recognised protective factors to a new parents’/carers’ wellbeing.

Not only that, but these worries are leading to concerns about whether these “missed opportunities” will have an impact on their baby’s development.

Undoubtedly, there will be a unique set of challenges related to giving birth and caregiving during this time. However, now more than ever, it is really important to offer support and reassurance by focusing on some of the things we can control, rather than what we are unable to.

Some of the positive features (within our control) that we can focus on:

  • One of the most important things that we can do as caregivers for our babies is to take time to connect, interact and establish those all important early attachments, and extended time at home can sometimes help facilitate these psychological processes.

    That is not to say that physical contact with our friends is not very important for establishing a crucial support network, but this time at home can potentially allow parents/carers to be in a positive position to form these psychological connections with their babies.

    When we feel able and ready, we can use the time to become more ‘present’ and ‘tuned in’ to to our babies’ interactions, which in turn can help us learn about how we can effectively read our babies early attempts at communication and respond more effectively.

  • Extra time at home can help caregivers find a natural rhythm that is suitable for their baby and family, which is vital for the emotional security of their baby and the sense of wellbeing at home.

  • If parents/carers display COVID-19 symptoms they may have to spend some time away from their children. While this will be challenging, research has suggested that caregivers can still develop positive attachments with their babies after experiencing time away from them.

Top tips for protecting parent/carer wellbeing:

  • Practice self-care. Make an individual plan which includes things which are within your control and you can use to help soothe yourself at stressful times e.g., reading, music, exercise, a bath, a hot drink, five minutes of fresh air, breathing exercises etc.

    If you live with others, involve them in creating it (they can also make one for themselves).

    When we feel stressed or anxious, we can often feel less able to think of creative ideas, so have the plans to hand at times of need.

  • Acknowledge that caregiving in itself is a fantastic achievement. Sometimes just making it through the day is a success in itself. Find a way of noting all your achievements (however big or small) and create meaningful ways to celebrate them.

  • Remember some of the challenging emotions you might experience are to be expected. You are not only experiencing the very natural and normal challenges of raising a baby, but are doing so during a pandemic.

  • Try and plan ahead to reduce any physical challenges. For example, ensure you have basic supplies to avoid any added stress.

    If you can, ask friends/family to drop off supplies. You could create a little wish list to give to family and friends who are willing/able to help. Remember that any help you can get is deserved and needed, especially at this time.

    If you are unable to call on family/friends make use of organisation helplines etc.

    If you or someone else has concerns about your wellbeing whilst raising a baby, Eve Canavan from the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership has created this directory of support.

  • Plan a list of things you can do from home with your baby that is unique to YOUR situation.

    For example, YOU can sing nursery rhymes, YOU can make a journal documenting memories, YOU can make baby handprints/footprints with paint etc.

  • Try and have an easily accessible collection of toys or objects that can support a baby’s development at home.

    Options include: black and white objects; a soft blanket to use as a play mat; and recycling materials, such as plastic bottles or cardboard boxes you can use to make sensory toys.

    Older babies also love things we often already have at home to use as toys e.g., keys, boxes, containers, saucepans, remote controls, etc. (just make sure they have been washed and disinfected first).

  • Baby groups can be a very important and lovely part of the postnatal period, but remember they are NOT absolutely essential in terms of supporting your baby’s development – it is YOUR interactions which are the most important for your baby, and those interactions can happen anywhere.

    However if you would like to try and increase your support networks and connections with other parents/carers, you could make use of available technology to take part in online baby groups/classes. These are growing in popularity in the current climate.

Always remember, one the most important things for a baby’s development is their interactions with their primary caregiver(s). As their parent/carer YOU are enough!

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