Why parents shouldn't panic about how the pandemic will affect their baby
As a new mum, I have spent the past few months throughout the pandemic worrying about what it means for my bond with my son, his social development and the future of his mental health.
Does he recognise me with a mask? Will he be scared to get close to another human? Will he be filled with anxiety if the world goes back to normal?
The sad thing is, I know I’m not alone in these worries.
But apparently, babies are actually smarter and more resilient than we think – and this news might reassure new mothers that their babies are going to be just fine.
Visit our live blog for the latest updates Coronavirus news live
Katie Reid, a child psychotherapist in the early attachment service within the NHS, tells Metro.co.uk that throughout the pandemic, many parents have reported their babies becoming upset when seeing their parents wearing a mask.
But apparently, this is similar to how they would respond if a parent had a radical new haircut or put on their glasses instead of wearing contacts – so it’s really no cause for major concern.
She says: ‘However, babies will search for verbal and non-verbal cues in the absence of being able to see a parent smiling, frowning, or speaking. That might include listening for certain vocal tones and watching a parent or caregiver’s eyes.
‘There are lots of ways in which parents can mitigate these experiences by picking up on their babies’ responses, speaking to them lots, and explaining what is going on, even though the baby doesn’t yet understand the actual words, and perhaps exaggerating their facial expressions.
‘It might also be helpful to practice wearing a mask so that your baby becomes familiar with this, rather than noticing it for the first time when you’re just going into a doctor’s appointment.’
She adds that the lack of opportunity for social interaction and play is probably more of a disappointment to parents than babies, as babies don’t actually know that these are things they’re missing out on.
Right now, parents are their babies’ world, and there is so much we can introduce to them that will help them to learn the world around them.
Katie continues: ‘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.’
Rather than worrying about what your baby is missing out on, try to make their at-home life the best it can be.
‘Babies and young children thrive when they have a clear sense of routine and the day has structure,’ Katie explains. ‘You might find they are interested in the same things for what feels like weeks and weeks at a time – if you pay close attention to how they play you’ll notice when they are starting to get bored and it would be a good idea to introduce new things.
‘Little ones just love exploring and discovering new things – again, look online and speak to other parents about different ideas for play so that things feel fresh and neither baby, nor you, get bored.’
If you’re a parent who’s been isolated at home with your baby for months, it’s understandable to be concerned about your child’s ability to bond with family and friends once they finally meet in person.
But if, through your relationship with your baby, you’ve been able to provide a safe, predictable and nurturing home, you will have already done an enormous amount to prepare your baby for the wider world.
‘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,’ Katie explains.
‘This first important relationship also provides protection for babies when they encounter later stresses.
‘Equally, if your baby was born this year, the chances are they have spent most of their life within a very small and contained circle of people. It makes total sense that, as you begin introducing them to the wider world, it takes them a little while to learn about and feel confident around other people (even close family), and to need a bit more reassurance and comfort from their parents at these times.
‘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.’
Regardless of a pandemic, babies’ development is always something that worries new parents. Maybe you worry about how long they should be sleeping at night, whether they’re eating enough or if they’re teething.
But these challenges are normal – and you should expect things like more fussiness and loss of appetite during developmental peaks.
What’s important is knowing when you need to ask for help.
‘A baby might be fretful one day and calm the next’, Katie adds.
‘Temporary changes are all part of normal development but if a baby begins to sleep more, feed less or become more irritable for long periods then it’s important to reach out for support.
‘Often this support can come in the form of family or other parents, however don’t be afraid to reach out to your Health Visitor or GP, or other professional locally, if something doesn’t feel right and you want to talk it through.
‘Similarly parents who experience changes in their sleep, mood or appetite and who find themselves becoming more irritable with their baby, feeling less connected or not enjoying being a parent should seek support for themselves.
‘It’s not possible or desirable for a baby’s development to shield them entirely from any negative experience. It is more important that your baby learns that he or she can count on a parent for safety, responsiveness, comfort and affection – that together you can overcome difficulties.
‘Some families face extraordinary pressure – overdue bills, empty cupboards, domestic conflict and homelessness, which can mean some babies are exposed to a constant stream of negative experiences.
‘When this happens, and the negative experience is not buffered by a primary caregiver’s attention and affection it can have an impact on brain development and lead to delays in physical, social, and intellectual growth. Parents trying to navigate these trying circumstances shouldn’t blame themselves but instead ask for help and for information about local agencies that provide services to parents and babies.’
Parents often feel like they’re not enough for their baby, and like their babies are missing out. But you absolutely do not need to be worried.
One of the most important things you can do is stay connected with other parents, as this is one of the ways that we learn about how to do things as parents ourselves.
Katie tells us: ‘We see other parents playing with their babies in particular ways and we try this too. We might see that another parent has started baby-led weaning and feel encouraged to have a go at this.
‘Without ordinary contact it is difficult to keep a check on our own worries and on what is ordinary good enough parenting.
‘The easing of restrictions will likely bring about opportunities for parents and babies, but these can bring different worries. Going back to work, for example, may mean looking for alternative care for your baby.
‘Remember that separation anxiety is a natural part of infant development, not necessarily because they’ve been with a parent exclusively during the pandemic.
‘If you have spent the last few months isolated with your baby and worry about periods of separation, try starting slowly, if possible – for example leave the baby with a family member or childcare provider for short blocks of time, increasing by the day until everyone is comfortable.’
So, is there anything you should be doing to help your baby grow just how they should be doing? Well, yes: You can love them as hard as possible.
Try not to worry about what comes next, and focus on the now. Enjoy being a parent, and take care of your baby the best you know how. Remember that you are their world right now – and you are more bothered about the rest of it than they are. That’s for certain.
Do you have a story to share?
Get in touch by emailing [email protected]
MORE : Why positive news like the Covid-19 vaccine is so important for our mental health in the pandemic
MORE : Mum writes children’s book about Santa shielding to guide kids through a Covid Christmas
MORE : Woman born without a womb welcomes miracle baby with help of surrogate
Source: Read Full Article