There are few experiences in life that can bring as much joy and stress as having a baby, especially the first. For many couples, it is the first real test of their relationship and can bring with it a lot of stress and strain. Having a baby during a pandemic? Multiply that stress and add in all the new hygiene protocols and social distancing, and the parenting journey can feel extra daunting and lonely.
We’ve spoken before about parenting in this ‘new normal’, but pre- and post-partum care deserves special attention. There’s so much around having a baby which is lost when you can’t — or shouldn’t — be around people outside of your family. How are moms supposed to cope?
In this article, we turn to well-baby Registered Nurse, Midwife, and Lactation Consultant, Heather Wood from the Cape Town-based Thula Baby Centre to hear how she and other healthcare practitioners are gearing up to support moms in this strange time of a socially-distanced pre and post-partum period.
Comparing Pre- and Post-Pandemic New Parenthood
This post by Genevieve Putter from The New Normal really punches home the vast differences in the pre- and post-pandemic birth and new motherhood. Mom of two, Chloe O'Doherty contrasts her experience with her first child, where she had Moms & Babes classes, a weekly meetup with other new moms, as well as access to friends and family to help hear her concerns and support her through her transition to motherhood.
With her second child, born during the COVID lockdown in South Africa, none of that was available. Now, she is able to go for socially distanced walks with friends occasionally, as lockdown restrictions are eased, but her feelings of isolation and loneliness are far more pronounced this time around.
That’s true for many new parents, especially those going through it for the first time. If you are one of the many parents joining the ranks during these times, we hope that articles like this help to encourage you to look for the help and support that is available to you.
Before: What Does Pre-Birth Care Look Like?
For most new parents, the months and weeks leading up to birth are a happy whirlwind of antenatal classes, preparing their home for their new bundle of joy, and packing their hospital bag.
These days, antenatal classes are happening on Zoom, and getting people into your house to work on it — painting or building — is an exercise in faith and trust that they won’t bring sickness in with them. Even your hospital bag will look different, as you pack masks, hand sanitiser, and expect to have your hospital stay severely curtailed.
Similarly, buying baby goods like car seats and cribs could formerly be done through secondhand channels, that may now feel too unsafe to warrant the saving. Parents can now visit baby shops, but there was a period during the early lockdown when even that wasn’t possible. They can shop online and have things delivered, but even that comes with associated delays, leaving soon-to-be-parents feeling anxious and unsupported.
Heather Wood says her couples stay in touch using WhatsApp groups and are very close, providing one another with support, stories, advice, and anecdotes to help everyone feel less alone. They might not be able to meet up in person, but they use the tools they do have to stay close.
During: What Does Birth Look Like?
Every person entering the hospital has to have a COVID-19 test a few days beforehand. This can be extra challenging for vaginal births and emergency C-sections, as they are seldom predictable.
Additionally, many moms credit their success with breastfeeding to early intervention in the form of a lactation consultant in the hospital. Heather is unable to visit parents in the hospital, so they are left to get what help they can from the nurses on duty.
Many leave the hospital after much-shortened stays with the message that they “don’t have enough milk”, leaving them feeling anxious and worrying about feeding their baby. In fact, most moms only have their milk come in on day three or four after birth, but by then many have started formula feeding out of fear.
Breastfeeding can be a difficult skill to master, and many new moms only succeed in longterm breastfeeding with an army of support in the form of lactation consultants, physios, and nurses. Heather is seeing a huge lack of lactation assistance, leading to parents turning to formula far sooner than they would have hope to do so.
After: What Does Postpartum Care Look Like?
Gone are the days of mommy and me exercise classes, new mom teas, and friends dropping by to help out for an hour or two while you get some shut-eye. Instead, new parents are left to fend for themselves and frequently feel isolated and overwhelmed.
For Heather, referrals and access are the primary problems, with many new parents left in the dark about the support options still available to them.
And there are options available! “Support is much more needed, and much harder to access right now,” according to Heather. She and the others at the Thula Centre offer drive-by vaccinations; video-assisted Zoom consultations while parents are still in the hospital; one-on-one lactation support after discharge (with all the proper hygiene protocols followed); plus far more phone consults than before.
The Upside of Pandemic Care
One of the few upsides to post-pandemic care is the sheer volume of resources that are becoming available online. A few years ago, you could hardly find a prenatal yoga class that wasn’t held only in person during your Monday morning meeting. These days, there are a huge variety of exercise classes, meditation apps, and even therapy available on-demand online.
For those days and weeks when it’s impossible to leave the house without your baby puking down your top (and we’ve all had those days), you might find some solace in a quick online yoga class or a virtual therapy session. And that’s something that wasn’t available to the parents of even five years ago.
While the Thula Baby Centre may not be local to you for assistance and pre- and post-partum care, but we would urge you to search your area for what support is available to you. Connect with other parents experiencing new parenthood at the same time as you, so you can swap advice and stories and feel less alone in the great adventure of new parenthood.
It may feel as though you are all alone in a sea of fear, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people experiencing what you are at exactly the same time. Together you are stronger than you are alone, and the support is out there if you can find it. And whether you meet up online or in person, we hope you hold hands through this truly weird time and find some comfort in the shared discomfort.
Looking for support from other moms during this time? Join our Snuza Mama & Me community.
Phone conversation with Heather Wood from the Thula Baby Centre.
The New Normal Instagram post: https://www.instagram.com/p/CCkwkJhpUr9/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
Instagram Live from Kelly Lynch, Dietician and Mom: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CBcitbNpaUy/?igshid=8zloqw2bwls9