‘It’s definitely really challenging’ - mums speak about bringing up a new baby during coronavirus lockdown

Suffolk mum Laura Smith, from Tunstall, with baby Finley Picture:TOM WELLS

Suffolk mum Laura Smith, from Tunstall, with baby Finley Picture:TOM WELLS - Credit: TOM WELLS

Parents have spoken of the challenges of having a new baby during lockdown including the physical separation from family and worries over their child’s development.

Laura Smith, from Tunstall, has spoken about bringing up a young baby during the coronavirus lockdow

Laura Smith, from Tunstall, has spoken about bringing up a young baby during the coronavirus lockdown Picture: TOM WELLS - Credit: TOM WELLS

One Suffolk mum said she didn’t feel she had the same opportunity to bond with her new daughter, who is seven weeks’ old, because the coronavirus lockdown had taken away the chance to go out to groups where they could enjoy one-on-one time together.

MORE: What it really feels like to be pregnant in a pandemic

Also having a toddler at home who is demanding of her attention, yet no hands-on support from family and friends or nursery school because of social distancing, means she feels baby “isn’t getting the best of me”.

The mum, who asked not to be named, said: “She always has clean clothes and a clean nappy and when she needs me, I’m always there, but I don’t get to do all the lovely baby bits I did before because I’m concentrating on her sister.”

She added: “I’m not saying I’m not bonding with baby. But with my toddler at this stage we were going to groups, baby sensory, baby massage.”

Some family members haven’t even met baby yet

“It’s also hard because half of my family haven’t met her yet. Lots and lots of friends haven’t met her yet,” she continued.

Laura and Finley, who was born on January 29 Picture: TOM WELLS

Laura and Finley, who was born on January 29 Picture: TOM WELLS - Credit: TOM WELLS

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“And I worry...they say the first two years are the most developmental. If this carries on for six months, that’s a quarter of that developmental time she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to socially interact with anyone else.

“I do worry about the impact of only seeing me, her dad and her sister on her social development.

“They learn to talk because of the social interactions they have.”

She said she expressed her concerns to someone from the perinatal mental health team, whose care she is under, but “the thing is, nobody can do anything about it – that is how it is”.

She said she had her husband at home and lots of people she can interact with on social media, but she “really, really felt” for single parents and first-time mums.

“I’m getting a little bit more confident because she is my second baby,” she added.

‘It’s definitely really challenging’

David Marks, pictured with 14-month-old son Xander, spoke about being a dad during lockdown Picture:

David Marks, pictured with 14-month-old son Xander, spoke about being a dad during lockdown Picture: JODIE MARKS - Credit: JODIE MARKS

Laura Smith, 27, mum to Finley who is just over two months’ old, shared some of these concerns.

The teacher, from Tunstall near the Suffolk coast, said these past weeks had been “definitely really challenging, especially because it was my first as well and I just wanted my family with me all the time”.

“My mum is incredibly hands-on and supportive so that’s been really hard,” she added.

She said she had gotten into a routine of baby classes and visiting family and then “literally overnight it came to a halt”.

“I want Finley to become familiar with his nanny and there are cousins locally, and that’s really hard.

“My partner’s family are really close-knit, and they find that really hard not seeing us.

“Most people have met him two or three times, and that’s not enough.”

MORE: How will lockdown come to an end in the UK?

Xander and his dad David Marks Picture:JODIE MARKS

Xander and his dad David Marks Picture:JODIE MARKS - Credit: JODIE MARKS

She also had worries over how the lack of social interaction would affect Finley’s development, but had been given reassurance by Jo Cresdee, the chief executive of Suffolk Babies.

This not-for-profit company based in Kesgrave provides antenatal and baby classes and offers a whole host of support to families.

Laura said: “She’s [Jo’s] given me the confidence to make the most of every day. We are in a little routine and making sure he’s developing. I have been doing online classes with her.

“She offers coffee and a chat in the afternoon using Zoom, which is really nice and there are lots of mums on there. I think she’s amazing.”

Online baby groups are a lifeline

Baby groups are an important way to build up a supportive network of mums and dads with babies of a similar age and feel less isolated.

But while new parents can no longer physically go to these groups, some are moving online, and those being run by Suffolk Babies are now being accessed by people around the globe.

Xander Marks, 14 months old Picture:JODIE MARKS

Xander Marks, 14 months old Picture:JODIE MARKS - Credit: JODIE MARKS

MORE: Suffolk Babies take interactive baby and toddler classes online during lockdown

Jo, an antenatal teacher and early years Montessori teacher, said these social connections are “absolutely crucial”, adding Suffolk Babies is helping new parents to build these networks through Whats App.

The mother-of-three, who is also a personal trainer, said: “We are trying to do as much as we possibly can to try and bring people together on the internet.

“We don’t know how long this will be for. This could be somebody’s entire maternity leave.”

Breastfeeding support is also available remotely, such as through the Lowestoft and Waveney Breastfeeding Support, which, as well as its Facebook page and group, now runs virtual cafes three times a week, offers one-to-one video calls and is setting up a free online breastfeeding antenatal course.

Suffolk Babies also offers an online breastfeeding support group on Wednesdays from 2pm to 4pm.

Jo said: “It’s not the same [as being there], but we can do an awful lot with advising on positioning of baby. And a lot of what breastfeeding mums need is reassurance they are actually producing enough milk. It’s theoretical stuff.”

She added: “It’s about connecting with other women who are experiencing the same thing.”

Jo Cresdee, Suffolk Babies CEO, and Mel Lewis, who teaches online post-natal rehabilitation exercise

Jo Cresdee, Suffolk Babies CEO, and Mel Lewis, who teaches online post-natal rehabilitation exercise classes at Suffolk Babies Picture: RUTH LEACH - Credit: Ruth Leach

The online communities supporting each other during the crisis

The new ‘Bumps On Lockdown:Support Group For Pregnant & New Mums:Suffolk/Norfolk UK’ Facebook group has been a “massive success” and a “lifeline” to expectant and new parents its founder Georgina Street said.

The photographer said: “There are so many worries and concerns from these ladies so I’m happy they have found the group and know it’s a safe space for them to ask all those questions and also a place to make friends.

“The questions people are asking are all about their birth rights and what they can and can’t do.”

MORE: Thank you, you’re amazing - More tributes to our coronavirus community heroes

She added: “It is a scary time, it’s scary at the best of times, but add the worry of this virus on and it’s 100 times worse for them.”

Laura Smith and baby Finley Picture: CARON GILL

Laura Smith and baby Finley Picture: CARON GILL - Credit: CARON GILL

A dad’s point of view

David Marks, a children’s entertainer from Kesgrave, said it had been “challenging” when his wife Jodie, who is 24 weeks’ pregnant, needed to have baby’s movements checked at hospital and he was not allowed to attend.

After losing twin girls at 15 weeks and three weeks in hospital while pregnant with their son Xander, now aged one, they had hoped for the reassurance of a private 3D scan at 30 weeks, but this is also not possible due to the crisis.

Speaking of not being able to attend the movements check, David, 28, said: “All was fine, but it was just a scary moment.

“Normally I would be in there with her, but we are not seeing grandma or nanny at the moment, and I’m not allowed in the hospital anyway at the moment.

“That’s very, very hard, as is also staying at home 27/7.

“My wife is working at home in our home office which basically means I am a full-time dad looking after a one-year-old when we cannot go anywhere.

“I’m never normally at home on my own with Xander. Maybe once a week.”

For David, he said online classes with Suffolk Babies were “helping me keep a routine and keep me sane a little bit”.

Having a wide circle of friends and family around them, he had never felt isolated as a parent before, but he said “wow, 24 hours a day with a baby is really hard work”.

How have maternity services changed during the pandemic?

There have been some major changes to maternity services as a result of Covid-19.

These include partners not being able to join women for scans or allowed on the postnatal ward after birth and the temporary suspension of the home birth service at Ipswich and Colchester hospitals and West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds.

Speaking about the home birth service suspension, Anna Shasha, director of midwifery at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), which runs Colchester and Ipswich hospitals, said: “We recognise this decision may be disappointing, but our priority is keeping everyone we care for safe and this will help us to achieve that as part of our ongoing response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.”

A spokesperson for West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust said they were sorry for any upset this change had caused at their hospital.

They added: “Although home births can seem a logical option in the current climate of social distancing, they can require additional resources from the hospital, as well as from the ambulance service if there is an urgent need to bring you and your baby in.

“Home births are also unsuitable for women who may or do have coronavirus, because of the extra monitoring and medical help that might be needed to keep mum and baby safe.”

Jo from Suffolk Babies, who is also chair of the Maternity Voices Partnership (MPV) NHS working group for Ipswich Hospital, said there had been some worry from pregnant mums as currently only the consultant-led ward, Deben, is available, not the midwife-led ward, Brook.

She said a midwife-led service was still available within Deben.

But Jo said: “Women are automatically presuming they are going to give birth in a really hospitalised environment, but the rooms in Deben have been set up to look like a really beautiful birthing environment with candles and access to water.”

‘The NHS staff deserve a huge applause for what they are doing’

Jo said all support services were trying to do their best in a really difficult situation.

She said midwives were “absolutely amazing” for the care and support they were offering families during these strained times.

She added: “The clinicians are going above and beyond to offer a level of personalised care. It’s incredible what they are doing.

“They are working under so much pressure, but still looking at each case individually and ‘how can we support that family’.

“I think they deserve a huge applause for what they are doing.”

MORE: NHS staff thank public ‘heroes’ for staying at homeThe mum earlier in the article, who didn’t want to be named, said the perinatal mental health team were conducting video calls and baby’s six-week check at the doctors’ surgery had become an eight-week check also combining vaccinations.

“It has been hard, but I do feel like they are doing everything as well as they possibly can really” she said.

Looking forward to post-coronavirus

Like all of us, Finley’s mum Laura is having to contend with disappointments like plans no longer going ahead.

She said she is coping by trying to “deal with one thing at a time” and is also focusing on the light at the end of lockdown.

“Me and my best-friend have been writing down two things every day [one each] of things we want to do after lockdown,” she said.

Jo said there could be “huge benefits” for new mums of slowing down by being at home because of the coronavirus crisis.

“We have this tendency to [want to] get back to normal as quickly as possible and we have all these mums who are exhausted by about 12 weeks,” she said.

•There have also been changes to health visiting and children’s centre services run by Suffolk County Council. See here.

•ESNEFT now has a dedicated maternity helpline to help answer maternity-related questions or concerns. For Ipswich call 01473 702666 and for Colchester call 07843 502953. These are not emergency or labour numbers.

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