Effects of ‘pandemic parenting’ continue
Written by Amy Gardner from CKPR
Lockdowns may be over for now and life is beginning to look more like our version of ‘normal’, but some border closures remain, as do the limitations and impacts of having raised babies during a pandemic.
For INPAA’s inaugural Baby Safety Month launched in Australia this month, distributing advice about utilising support networks for mums, dads and carers isolated through COVID-19 has been a priority.
As part of this global campaign INPAA is aiming to connect a community that has been further challenged by COVID-19. We have partnered with expert bodies such as My Midwives, Kidsafe, Red Nose Australia and Tresillian Early Parenting to empower parents with valuable knowledge.
Liz Wilkes, Managing Director of My Midwives, acknowledges that families across the country have faced enormous challenges and uncertainty, thanks to the realities of living within the restrictions of a pandemic.
“Even for parents and caregivers in states that have been largely unaffected by lockdowns, border restrictions have meant the valuable support of family members has often been limited or unavailable. In many cases, this has resulted in significant mental health challenges that will be ongoing for some,”
Ms Wilkes said.
“Now more than ever, it’s important to build a tribe or village and make contingencies for a very unpredictable world.”
Have parenting challenges doubled?
Erin O'Donoghue in Melbourne welcomed her first baby in October 2020 and wasn’t allowed visitors at the hospital. Though restrictions soon began to ease at that time, she says she still had difficulties connecting with her support network.
“All of our friends and family were mentally and physically exhausted themselves from the pandemic and had their own responsibilities and issues to deal with,” Erin said.
“During lockdown, my Mum was given a visitor exception for carer responsibilities but we weren’t able to have anyone else, and my partner's family all live in the Philippines so have never met our daughter.”
With so much emphasis placed on pregnancy and birth and not as much on postpartum care and support, Erin and her partner faced mental health challenges as well as financial pressure.
“Accessing additional help and support wasn’t easy. I had already been seeing a psychologist but beyond that it was hard to know what additional support we needed, let alone how to get it. We were just adjusting to being a new family but it seems most of the support is directed towards those at crisis point, rather than in supporting people in what is a huge transition into first time parenthood.
“COVID also meant we couldn’t prepare ourselves financially as we would have liked to, and I ended up going back to work earlier than I had planned,” she said.
Sarah gave birth in May 2020 in Brisbane and says the COVID pandemic caused extra strain on her high- risk pregnancy and difficult recovery following the birth.
She had no friends or family living nearby to help out and was unable to have her one-year-old twins in childcare during lockdowns.
“My family and friends live interstate and apart from my Mum – who was able to visit eventually from Melbourne but with limitations – they weren’t able to visit and have never even met our new baby,” she said.
Finding your tribe
The safety of infants is always top of mind for parents and caregivers, and Baby Safety Month in Australia has provided valuable resources around weekly themes so parents can create a safe environment for their little ones.
Finding your tribe’ headlines week four of the Month, based around setting up support networks for mums, dads and carers to assist with parenting, but also for their own mental health wellbeing.
According to INPAA Director Tim Wain, pandemic parenting has presented a whole new era full of challenges and surprises over the last 20 months with more inevitably to come.
“The African proverb ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ has never been truer and we want to ensure parents have the resources they need to reduce preventable injuries in babies,” said Mr Wain.
In preparation for Baby Safety Month, we’ve spent a lot of time speaking with parents and expert child safety bodies, and a common theme has emerged of increased anxiety around the parenting journey.
Having a new baby can be exhausting and isolating in the best of circumstances but having done this without the support of loved ones adds another level of stress.
In pre-pandemic times, family and friends could provide in-person advice, look after the baby while parents caught up on valuable sleep, or simply bring a home-cooked meal over.
Mother’s groups are also usually an excellent source of support and socialisation. Like Erin and Sarah, most parents we have heard from tried to join these groups virtually when they had a newborn, but found it impractical to continue when they weren’t in person.
Even now with lockdowns over, carers may not have a parenting group to go back to, and grandparents may still not be able to visit if they’re interstate or overseas.
A back-to-basics guide
As part of Baby Safety Month we have released Tribe as a valuable resource for parents and caregivers who may feel overwhelmed with differing information. The free digital guide is curated with articles providing clear, practical advice from leading voices in Australian baby safety.
Tribe includes advice from My Midwives, such as the best care providers and services to look for, ways to utilise virtual correspondence, communication tactics, and how to look after your mental health as well as instigating a positive mindset.
“It’s important to remember that while it may feel as though your village has vanished, it’s still there – it just looks a little different,” said Ms Wilkes.