As Covid-19 restrictions continue across Tameside and Glossop, hundreds of new parents are navigating the challenges of raising a baby without the usual support network of classes, family and friends to help them.
Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust runs an early attachment service that works with parents, babies and children, from pregnancy until the child’s fifth birthday.
Laura Brodetsky, senior mental health practitioner, said: "Covid restrictions have meant that many new mums have gone through some or all of their antenatal care and baby’s birth alone – this can be a frightening and uncertain time.
“Once baby has arrived, new parents have been forced to physically distance themselves from family, friends and professionals – in effect, very significant support networks have almost disappeared for many new parents and their babies."
Having a baby is one of the most momentous events many people experience in their lives; but it is also a time of enormous change and adjustment.
Whilst many families have responded in innovative ways – introducing grandparents over Zoom, or having virtual meet-ups with friends; for some families the pressure that the arrival of a baby can bring – on relationships, finances, and mental health – can push them into crisis.
A recent survey by Parent-Infant Foundation of more than 5,000 parents reveals that almost seven in 10 (68 per cent) said their ability to cope with their pregnancy or baby has been impacted by Covid-19, with nearly nine in 10 reporting that they were more anxious as a result.
The mental health implications of Covid-19 and associated restrictions can be significant for baby and for parents.
Pennine Care's early attachment service has developed some practical top tips and advice for new parents who may be struggling at this time:
1. Take a break when you need it – build these in so you know you have some time to yourself to look forward to. When you have a newborn or young baby this might just be brief – 20 minutes to have a shower, a quick walk, a sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit while baby is sleeping.
2. Make the most of what social contact is allowed – if in your area you are allowed to meet friends or family outside and you think this would be good for you and your baby, wrap up warm and do it! Think about where you can meet outdoors that has some cover for sheltering if it rains, take something to sit on, all that stuff for baby (nappies, change of clothes, toys etc) and reconnect with friends and family.
3. Recognise your baby’s state – part of getting to know your baby is about learning when they are ready to play, sleep, cuddle, rest and feed. Learning how to recognise your baby’s ‘state’ will help you know how to respond to you baby at different times.
4. Family and friends video calls - perhaps your baby can't quite make sense of video-calling or just isn't in the right mood at the right time. Ask family and friends to take a short video of themselves talking directly to your baby in their best sing-song baby voice. Watch this video with your baby to help them get to know your important people, and even film baby watching the video to show back to family and friends.
5. Small children and babies pick up on their parents’ worries. This can make them feel uncertain which activates their ‘attachment system’ – the inbuilt system to help keep them safe, which ‘tells’ them to get close to their important adults in order to feel safe and protected. So, you might notice your baby seems to need you more and find it harder managing by themselves.
6. Introduce your baby to the outside world gently - if your baby has only really been at home with you through their early months, it might be important to think about how overstimulating and overwhelming the outside world might feel. It’s a difficult time of balancing your own wish to see and connect with family and friends who you have missed so much over the last few months, with baby’s need to adjust to a loud, colourful, fast-moving world.
7. Know that this will pass - life with a new baby, although often full of happiness, joy and pride, can also be hard, unrewarding , exhausting and scary (and that was before covid). It’s important to remember that and know that this time will pass, some kind of normality will return.
8. Try not to panic - if your baby seems unsettled and is crying more. All babies cry. They cry as a way of letting you know that they need something. Taking care of a new baby can be hard work especially if you have a particularly sensitive baby. All parents have times when they feel like it is all too much. If you can, when you are holding your baby, tolerate their distress and stick with them through the tears, you are doing a great deal, helping your baby to experience that you are there and that you are strong enough to cope with their big emotions.
9. Help friends who have had a baby through Covid - think about (or ask) what you can do to help – drop off some home-made meals, take a few loads of laundry home to wash and deliver back, do their shopping, make time to ‘meet’ baby on a video call, and / or to speak to your friend while baby is sleeping, be prepared to meet outside (if permitted) in any weather.
10. Help is available - if you are struggling, please just ask for help. Reach out to your GP, health visitor, midwife, or local early attachment / parent-infant service
Pennine Care runs early attachment services in Tameside and Glossop. Find out more at www.penninecare.nhs.uk or search Tameside & Glossop early attachment service on Facebook.
A mother from Tameside shares her story
"As a first time mother with a seven month old lockdown baby, it’s been hard, too hard really to put into words. I first started speaking to someone from the early attachment service on the phone every week when my son was around a month old.
"At that point I was at rock bottom. I had a lot of trouble adjusting and bonding, I felt the world was on my shoulders and that I was alone in this new world I’d found myself in. With lockdown and all the restrictions that came with it, I had no outside help. Nobody to tell me I was doing ok, nobody to take some of the strain away while I took a shower, ate a meal, had a coffee or a nap. There were no baby groups I could take my son to, no other mothers I could socialise with, to bring me any sense of relief or normality. Both my son and I were missing out on all the things other mothers before me possibly took for granted.
"When I first started speaking to someone, when I started to slowly tell them my story and of the traumatic way in which my son entered the world; I was dubious that there was another possible cause of why I was feeling the way I was. I didn’t see how someone on the end of a phone could make anything better. How anyone on the end of a phone could take away any of what I was feeling and the thoughts I was having. However, within a few weeks I was telling them things that I’d never really admitted even to myself before. And within those first few months they weren’t just a person on the end of a phone - they were a lifeline to me. They made me see that the way I was feeling was normal. They made me realise that I was doing ok, that I was a good mum and my son was getting everything he needed from me.
"They helped me to understand my son, but more than that they gave us those first few vital threads of connection, the start of a bond that I knew had been missing.
"One of the most important things they gave me was they helped me to laugh again. Actual laughter that made my sides hurt. That’s when I realised I was slowly coming through the other side.
"Having a baby in lockdown is hard. Talking to a stranger over the phone about your life, your intimate thoughts and feelings is even harder. But they helped me when I didn’t know how to help myself. They were there for me 24 hours a day, they were and still are only ever a text or a phone call away. If I need them they are there.
"In all honesty, without their help and guidance through this phase in my life, where would I be? The answer to that is I truly don’t know.
"The early attachment service has been unbelievable and I genuinely feel the relationship we have built up over the last few months is one of the most important of my life.
"Lockdown is hard. Not being able to go out and do normal day to day things or activities with a new baby is hard. Not being able to go and play in the park or allow my son to make friends is hard. Knowing at seven months my son has relatives he hasn’t even met yet is hard. But the help we have received as a family is truly phenomenal and both my son and myself thank them from the bottom of our hearts."