As England went into its second national lockdown the slow the spread of Covid-19, people mourned the closure of shops, pubs, and restaurants.
What people might not have noticed also shutting down are baby classes and support groups for new parents.
These closures could have a huge impact on mothers of under ones and their babies.
Mums such as myself rely on baby classes and groups as a way of remembering we’re not alone. As the mother of a seven-month-old, suffering with postnatal depression, baby classes decreased my mum-guilt, because it was an opportunity for my son to socialise beyond his immediate family – something that all babies should have the chance to do.
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I’m worried that if my son doesn’t have this normality, his development may be affected. And I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Lauren, 25, from Bournemouth had her baby, Rex, back in April, during the first lockdown.
She tells Metro.co.uk that her worries around her son’s development have increased since England ended up in its second lockdown.
She said: ‘I’ve been worried about his social development the most. Not being held by other people very often since he’s been born and not interacting with many children, I honestly worry every day how this will impact him in the future.
‘I’ve noticed he hasn’t rolled back to front yet and he isn’t reaching to stand. I don’t know what he’s behind in because I haven’t been told.’
Lauren says her biggest worry about Rex’s development is how he interacts with people. She’s terrified to return to work because of their joint separation anxiety.
‘I understand there are restrictions in place but women’s mental health and their babies’ development is being brushed under the carpet,’ she says. ‘Being a first time mum during a pandemic is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to endure. I really hope it hasn’t affected my son… but I suppose time will tell.’
Flo, 25, from Aylesbury, gave birth to baby Jett in May.
She’s been worried about not being able to take him to baby groups or having help with his development.
She says: ‘As a first time mum, I didn’t know what to do with a baby. I was constantly worried that I wasn’t supporting him in the best way possible, which then had me worrying about him having delayed development.
‘I’ve been most concerned about his social interaction. When he first met another baby, he was 15 weeks old and freaked out. It made him cry.
‘I was really worried about how the lack of interaction with other babies might affect his socialisation skills in the long term. I can help with sensory play and reading and singing and everything else, but I can’t help with socialisation if we can’t see anyone.
‘I just don’t want him to have any struggles when it comes to mixing with other babies or being left with grandparents.
‘I also don’t want him to have any kind of delayed development simply because there’s nobody to regularly check him over or look for signs of anything serious. It worries me and means I’m so alert to anything he does.
‘New mums – especially first-time mums like myself – really have been completely forgotten about in this pandemic and it’s just not good enough. There are so many of us and we all need more than we are currently getting.’
33-year-old Lucy, from Kent, gave birth to baby Aubry in April.
She tells us: ‘In the early days and weeks of her life I wasn’t really worried about her development, as I was recovering from an emergency C-section and was more concerned about sleeping and keeping the baby alive – but as she has got older my biggest concern is the lack of interaction with any other babies.
‘We did go to a baby sensory group for a few weeks but it shut down in lockdown, and seeing how much she loved seeing the other babies and how excited she was made me feel sad that she’s missing out again.
‘I fear she won’t be socialised in the way she would have been if there wasn’t a pandemic. I wouldn’t say it induces anxiety, but more a sense of sadness – especially as I’ll be back at work in a couple of months, so will have less time to meet with other mums and babies.’
Charlotte, 30, from Manchester, gave birth in June.
She says she’s most concerned that her daughter, Murphy, has been born into a forgotten generation; ‘one where she was born into isolation and anxiety instead of surrounded by love and making social bonds’.
She says: ‘I worry that all of the pressure is on me to make up for this, and the detriment that this will have on my mental health and on her development in turn.
‘Fortunately, my baby has met all of her milestones so far, and I’ve had good support from our health visitor to know what to look for.
‘I’m getting a lot of support from the mental health services – the lockdown and restrictions in place when becoming a new mum have really taken a toll on me. I know that people may look unkindly on this, but I am continuing to mix with friends and family because I refuse to let my baby’s development and wellbeing suffer.
‘The first years of a baby’s life are crucial and we are social creatures who need lots of stimulation and a wide support network to develop and thrive.
‘It’s also incredibly difficult to meet all of my baby’s needs and cope alone. I’m not prepared for my baby to be hindered with the disadvantage she was born with.
‘I’m really concerned as to how this will impact on her development. I’m trying to do activities with her at home, but it’s difficult to reach the same level of stimulation and there’s no socialisation or variety involved.
‘My biggest worry is that my baby will be part of a generation who have fallen behind.’
Ellie, whose son turned one at the start of the first lockdown, says he was such a ‘sociable child’ before the UK’s first lockdown.
When baby classes closed, she wondered whether she’d be able to encourage his development in the same way.
Ellie, who also has a newborn daughter, says the biggest concern of social development for her actually presented in her son once the first lockdown lifted.
She said: ‘He was extremely nervous around other people, even family. He didn’t smile or wave at people in the shops and he was very clingy.
‘He definitely regressed with social interaction. Luckily this built up again with familiar adults and his language development has excelled. We managed to arrange a couple of play dates with children closer to his age, he was so new to sharing and interacting with them.
‘I am hoping this second lockdown doesn’t have a negative effect on him too, hopefully it won’t be as long as the first.
‘With my daughter, I want her to build close bonds with her family and those that love her. Only time will tell how we will be able to do this!’
According to UNICEF, for optimal brain development children require a stimulating and enriching environment, learning opportunities and social interaction – but under the pandemic measures, access to these needs is restricted.
They state: ‘Unsafe conditions, negative interactions and lack of educational opportunities during the early years can lead to irreversible outcomes, which can affect a child’s potential for the remainder of his or her life.
‘The ongoing crisis is likely only to exacerbate the situation of children living in home environments characterised by a lack of access to developmentally appropriate resources, such as toys and books, low levels of stimulation and responsive care, or inadequate supervision prior to the crisis.
‘Mitigating the negative impact of COVID-19 on young children will require strategic multi-sectoral approaches and the synergy of interventions in health, nutrition, security, protection, participation and early education.’
If you’re a new mum worried about your child’s development and social skills, Katie Reid, a child psychotherapist in the early attachment service within the NHS, recommends seeking out online baby groups – but reassures us that the most important form of socialisation is the bond between a parent and their child.
Katie tells us: ‘As a parent, it is hard to sustain feeling and being playful on your own at home without the company of other parents and babies.
‘Make use of your social networks and family support in any ways you can, and look to social media and local children’s centre offers that are available online.
‘Lots of services are offering online baby groups which will give you great ideas for play, songs, and give you an opportunity to meet other parents. There are also some great free online resources with ideas for play and information about your baby’s development, such as BBC Tiny Happy People and the Baby Buddy app.
‘It is the relationship with a primary caregiver who is able to be responsive and regulated, engaged and attentive that provides the most robust building block on which all their babies development sits, language development, social skills, curiosity and learning about the world.
‘This first important relationship also provides protection for babies when they encounter later stresses.
‘The current situation is a challenge for everyone, and there is clear emerging evidence that for some babies lockdown is having a detrimental impact.
‘If parents can manage their own feelings of isolation and stress while maintaining a sense of stability and connectedness, their baby should thrive.’
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