The first few days as a new parent are always a huge shift – to say the least! And during lockdown, things are even stranger, as the normal routine of visitors is flipped on its head.
That’s the situation now for Carrie Symonds, partner of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who gave birth to a baby boy on April 29. The baby arrived just a few days after Johnson returned to work following a stint in intensive care while battling coronavirus, and Symonds showing symptoms too.
It’s a situation that’s very familiar for many new mums, and one that, while different, has plenty of positives to it, too. While it might feel like things aren’t in your control, there are actually lots of things you can do to find balance in these early days.
Ordinarily you’d hear the doorbell ringing with constant visitors, now there’s an enforced calm.
Enjoy the bubble
Joanna Fortune is a psychotherapist and author of ’15 Minute Parenting’ (Thread, £9.99). She says: “An immediate positive is that you have this uninterrupted bubble now, without people coming through your house. It’s just you, your partner and your baby.
“Loneliness can normally be a big issue in these first weeks – it can feel quite isolating when the partner goes back to work. But in lockdown, it’s likely you have two people working at home, so you have a bit more time at home together with your baby.”
You’re literally the only people who are allowed to cuddle your baby right now – which is pretty unique for new parents! That said, you need to keep in touch so family and friends don’t feel too left out. That means video calls when you can – but at set times.
“All the digital technology and video calls can be draining as you are answering people who have their own need to see and meet your baby,” says Fortune. “That’s different to the hands-on support that new mothers need.” Phone calls every day is not the same as them bringing food, after all.
“Look at things that you can do rather than what you can’t do,” she says. So you could record a video to send to family perhaps, at a set time, rather than planning lots of calls. Or explain that you’re available for calls between midday and 2pm, but after that you’re having time together.
If someone asks, ‘Can I do anything?’ then give them a job. If your friend is the one who has had the baby, send food not flowers – offer to order a takeaway on your own account.
Time to hunker down guilt-free
Sue Brennan is a senior staff midwife at Kingston NHS Trust and says: “I often say to people postnatally ‘that’s your time to hunker down’, as when you go home there can normally be a massive footfall through your house. Well meaning people, all very helpful. And some of that can still happen in some way – they can leave gifts and meals on the doorstep.
“I think right now there are massive benefits to it just being the three – or four if you have another child – at home and just ‘getting on with it’ a little bit. Just being a little family is really, really important.”
Change the lockdown language
Think about changing the language you use about the situation. Instead of saying isolation, consider saying you’re ‘cocooning’ says Fortune. “The first few weeks are cocooning anyway. This is time you won’t get back, so embrace technology but do put a boundary on it. Don’t feel you have to be on your phone all day, showing off the baby.”
Tap into professionals and forums
Ask where you gave birth for what family therapy services are on offer. “See what tele-health services you can access – look on parenting platforms for support and community if you can, too,” says Fortune. Social media can be a great tool if it’s harnessed in the right way.
Playing with your newborn
With all this time on your hands, you can really engage with your baby. Fortune suggests what she calls ‘toes and nose’. So, do everything from rubbing your nose against theirs, to singing while you play with their toes.
“Bringing your baby up close and having eye contact while you sing – you don’t have to be a good singer – is playful for a baby,” she says. “That rhythm is soothing and regulating for them.”
Your face coming close to them is investing in the relationship and the connection, and singing is regulating for our own emotional system.
It can help with breastfeeding
Brennan says she’s seen an increase in successful breastfeeding since births in lockdown. It’s due to fewer outside influences offering opinions or suggestions, and women finding time to just be by themselves and try to feed.
One final practical thing to be aware of is that if a midwife or health visitor comes to see you, you need to expect them to be wearing an apron, gloves, visor and mask.
“It’s strange thing to be looked after by a midwife who’s wearing PPE. What’s often a personal, individual thing is now very different. But all hospitals are working hard to support women,” says Brennan.