The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful for everyone, but especially for new moms and those raising young babies. Although we won’t see the long-term effects the pandemic and its subsequent quarantine has had on babies until later, many mothers are already reporting concerns regarding their child’s development, as well as their own wellbeing.
We asked our Babypalooza moms how they’ve seen the pandemic affect their children, and several noted concerns over attachment issues, slower development, and familiarity with new people and environments. They also worry about their baby being overly dependent on them.
New mom Latrice Cole says, “My baby is 6 months old, and during this pandemic I have been working from home and keeping her. She is so co-dependent on me. When my mom or mother-in-law comes to visit or give me a break she cries and cries. She is so used to it being just me and her. I worry when she eventually transitions to daycare that she will cry all day.”
Although babies do go through a natural “stranger danger” phase between ages 6–12 months, it could be exacerbated by the fact they haven’t seen anyone but immediate family due to the pandemic.
“My baby is now almost 6 months old and has only met (in person) her grandparents, one great aunt, and two great uncles,” says Deanna Elizabeth, another Babypalooza mom. “We are quarantining to the fullest and do not allow people in the house. The only way people saw the baby was outside on the porch for a few minutes. Others see her through FaceTime or pictures and videos. When she sees a new person she seems to be shy and or excited because it’s a new face. She’s very attached to me and her maternal grandmother, who is in the home and helps caretake for her.”
Familiarity with different environments also is a concern. A pandemic-raised baby might be more fearful when leaving the house than one who was exposed to new environments prior. Mom Jasmine Johnson says her baby has made certain negative associations due to that.
“My daughter just recently stopped crying in the car because she wasn’t used to going anywhere other than the doctor’s office,” Jasmine says. “She also moves a lot slower than my son did, and I believe it has to do with her only being around her immediate family.”
What You Can Do
At a young age, babies are learning about their environment through seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling. When they don’t have a chance to interact outside of their familiar environment, they aren’t exposed to those new experiences that help them learn. And with physical distancing rules in place, touching is one major thing that babies are missing out on. Try to vary your child’s experiences as much as possible: take them on a walk in the neighborhood; sit outside so they can see, smell, and hear things; interact with them in a way that is responsive and encouraging. If your baby has older siblings, encourage them to play age-appropriate games with baby.
In order to introduce babies to new places and faces, see what you can do virtually. Although it’s not ideal, introducing baby to family members and friends over FaceTime and Zoom can help familiarize them with different voices and faces.
However, it’s important to be careful of increased screen time for young children during this time. A survey done by ParentsTogether found that screen time for children increased by 500% during the COVID-19 pandemic. Excessive screen time can not only affect cognitive development, but it can also contribute to more time sitting and snacking, and less time that children are active, leading to potential weight gain and obesity issues.
Find ways to engage with your children that help with their development, both mentally and physically. Read to your child. Exercise as a family (biking is a great way to get outside and maintain social distance). Play games that encourage creativity and learning. Puzzles, blocks, and arts and crafts all are great ways to entertain young kids while also working on developmental skills.
The Effect on Moms
Babies aren’t the only ones impacted by the pandemic. Many new moms have had to raise children without the support of friends and family. They’ve had to attend doctor’s appointments without their partners due to CDC regulations. And they’re having to work from home while also caring for their child.
An ongoing study by NYU Langone Health is measuring the effects of the pandemic on expectant and new mothers and their children. The first part of the study, performed March 30–June 15 (the height of the pandemic), focused on the mental health and wellbeing of new moms. The data found that of the pregnant participants, 75% reported changes to prenatal care; of those who had recently given birth, 90% reported changes to postnatal care.
Overall, 78% of the 800 mothers studied reported an increase in stress; the main sources for that being financial issues (31%), health issues (21%), impact on their community (19%), access to mental healthcare (17%), and impact on friends (12%). The thing that moms missed most: in-person contact, as reported by 75% of them.
“It’s been awful having to be cut off from the world the entire year after having my daughter, and I don’t see it coming to an end anytime soon,” Jasmine says. “I have an older son who is 4, but after delivering this time with my daughter during a pandemic, I experienced postpartum depression.”
Kandi Miles, who is a single mom, also feels the same.
“It’s been a long process but I’ve been bonding with my son,” Kandi says. “It’s stressful not having help during quarantine. I feel so closed up, but I’m thankful for the parenting classes I do online. At times, I beat myself up thinking about things I don’t have, but then I think to myself it could’ve been worse.”
For most moms, it’s been the lack of help that’s been the hardest.
“My mother recently got COVID and she was the one person who helped me take care of the baby during the day when my husband and I were working,” Deanna says. “Now that she cannot come to the house and help, we are feeling very stressed out. We are worn thin as well, since we still have to work and there are no breaks or anyone to help with a feeding or a diaper change. When the baby is fussy it’s just us. During the day it’s just me. It’s difficult to have to work at home with a 6-month-old who’s teething.”
The Impact of Working from Home
Working from home has put additional strain on new mothers. Many don’t have the ability to send their children to daycare if centers aren’t open. Others might not feel safe exposing their child and family. Without the help of additional support from friends or family, the burdens of both work and home often fall to the mother—at the same time.
“I never thought I would say I miss being in the office,” Latrice says. “I never realized how work was a getaway for parents. Working and keeping a baby is mentally and physically exhausting. Some days I feel like I am reliving the same day over and over. I go through a range of emotions: depression, resentment, and gratefulness. Moms need time away from their babies (or kids) to recharge and regroup. Not having the traditional help puts extra stress on parents.”
As a mom, remember to make your wellbeing as much of a priority as that of your child. Take time for yourself when you need it, and reach out to friends and family to talk to them. Online support groups can help to connect you with others in similar situations. Children are resilient, and as long as you’re taking the necessary steps to care for yourself and your child during this difficult time, you’re doing the right thing.