Sam believes that the conditions of lockdown, which can initially seem a bleak prospect for new parents, can actually prove beneficial for a newborn baby.
“When a baby is first born, all they want is to be fed and cuddled and kept clean,” she explains, “If it’s just the parents there, then that is exactly what they get. They just need and want to be close to you all the time, and this situation really facilitates that happening. As a result we’ve seen really healthy babies, most are not even losing that initial weight they normally do after birth, because they are being fed more regularly.”
Having a baby in a global pandemic is not anyone’s idea of ideal timing. There is the panic of an already scary and stressful time made worse by the heightened risks of Covid-19. There is the fact that grandparents are often restricted from seeing the baby, that birth partners have only limited time in the hospital, that the support structures you have probably taken years to build up, are now not physically able to be around.
Yet, says Community Midwife and co-founder of The Naked Midwives, Sam Pantlin, this may actually be a great time to have a baby.
“This starts in the hospital,” she says, “So many women I spoke to were understandably nervous about having a baby right now, in the middle of all this. But even though birth partners can often not stay for long, or overnight, I had so many women postnatally say they actually found it really lovely. They had all the curtains open around the ward and because there were no partners or parents, all the new mums just got to talk to one another. It really encouraged communication and solidarity amongst the new mothers. I think we underestimate just how invaluable the support of other women is.”
The bonding time new parents are afforded with their babies, that precious time of just them and the baby, reinforces a primal maternal or paternal connection that not only strengthens the parental connection, but actually has enormous health benefits.
“When you do skin to skin with a new baby, the mum’s core temperature will heat up or cool down depending on what the baby needs. If you do lots of skin to skin when you are breastfeeding, when the baby is feeding, the baby’s saliva glands in the baby’s mouth go through the areola in the nipple and changes the consistency of the milk. If your baby needs more Vitamin C one week, your breast milk produces more vitamin C rich milk and if you need more iron it will produce more iron.”
Sam goes on to say that what she typically recommends for new mothers is at least a week at home, doing nothing but care for the baby- be in her pyjamas, rest, bond- not worry about seeing people. So, is lockdown a gift in disguise in this respect?
“Absolutely,” she responds.
Patricia Davis, 30, a barrister from Belfast, had her first child last week.
“Having no pressure to go out or have visitors means you can dedicate yourself 100% to the baby, which is how things should be anyway,” she says, “It has also meant genuinely more rest for us as new parents.”
Lockdown slowing down the pace of life significantly, means good things for new parents. Sam explains that more-relaxed mothers will even find breastfeeding much easier.
“It’s made me so much more relaxed than I thought I would be at this time,” agrees Kate Luton, 31, who works at a start-up in London and had her first child, a daughter, at the height of lockdown in late March, “One of my main worries before having my baby was that I would miss my old life. I am one of the first in my friendship group to have a baby and I really thought I would suffer from FOMO, and desperately try and fit my baby into my old life. Instead, I had a baby at a time when all my friends are on pause. This gave me the headspace to actually focus on being a new mum and enjoy this time.”
The seclusion that new parents have at this time has strengthened the miniature family unit – whatever form that family unit takes. That is something both new mothers agree on.
“Even though his paternity leave will end soon, my husband will obviously still be in the house, and that will be so great for him and our son, and fantastic for me if I need help too,” says Patricia.
“Having it be just the three of us during this time has been so important,” agrees Kate, “And it’s been so great that my husband has been able to be there for all of it, to witness first hand how hard it all is and to establish equal parenting. We have lockdown to thank for that, it made us a solid parenting team.”
Sam believes that lockdown has massively aided the bonding time afforded to dads or birth partners, that they will learn the day-to-day much faster, they will learn to recognise their baby’s cry- things they may never have ordinarily been able to do when forced back to work often after just two weeks.
“The families I am seeing during lockdown are little teams,” she observes, “Couples have really come together over this, and potentially much stronger than they would have been otherwise. It’s that Dunkirk spirit; we are in this together, we have to get through it together.”
Lockdown does, of course, bring with it hardships and obstacles.
Neither new mother has been able to register their child’s birth, get them a passport, have the regular medical check ups they would normally have. Patricia even cites the difficulty in ordering a nursing bra that fits as an unexpected pitfall of no IRL shopping. But both Kate and Patricia say the hardest thing has been that neither have been able to see their parents, and do not know when they will be able to.
“It’s killing me,” says Patricia, “I want to show my son to them and I genuinely do not know when we will be able to do that.”
Yet, as heartbreaking as that separation can be, what new mothers and fathers are finding in this strange new world, is how to do things their own way. They have been given the space and time to figure out exactly who they are as parents, away from the pressures of socialising, hosting or even dealing with well-meaning mother-in-laws.
Sam hopes this is a lesson that new parents will take with them long after Covid-19.
“This is a time when women are really afforded their opportunity to become their own mums, to carve out their own identity. They are finding their own way of doing things,” she says, “I think it has helped women not compare so much. The most important lesson we can learn from this is how important it is to pull up the drawbridge when we have a baby and really value that initial time alone.”