The Newborn Normal: What is maternity leave like in lockdown?
As the pandemic shows no sign of pi**ing off and lockdown restrictions tighten yet again *sigh*, three mums share their experience of newborn parenting amidst the new normal.
Let’s be honest, we all had big plans for 2020. But whilst the pandemic has put a stop to holidays and socialisng, there’s one thing it can't press pause on; pregnancy. And sooner or later, that baby's got to come out, whether lockdown likes it or not. For many expectant mums, the pandemic has added extra pressure to their pregancy, and maternity leave is no different. Whilst everyone feels the negative impact of lockdown in some shape or form, whether it's missing out on Friday night pub sessions or seeing work colleagues everyday, for many new mums, tighter restrictions can mean less access to support groups and loved ones that often form a crutch during the first few months of motherhood.
So, as the UK is set to go into it's second lockdown and restrictions on meeting loved ones outside your household tighten, how can new mums on mat leave make the most of their situation? Three new mums share their experience of the "new-born normal" and advice for pulling through.
“There’s something really special about living in a bubble of just you and your baby,” - Ruth, Nottingham
Ruth gave birth in January, a few months before the madness of the first lockdown kicked in. Whilst lockdown put a stop to many things she’d been excited for, she found that the restrictions were a welcome break from the whirlwind of new mum life.
“The best thing about having a baby in a pandemic is having no expectations. Because there is nothing we can do but go for walks, there’s no pressure to do all the classes and look like you have your s**t together. During the first lockdown we often stayed in our PJs until lunchtime, I rarely washed my hair and never wore makeup.”
“I also had my husband and 3yr old at home so we all really bonded with the baby, not just me.”
Despite welcoming the break from the pressures of having everything together, Ruth still missed some of the normality.
“The worst part about having a baby in the pandemic is the FOMO. I think because this is my second maternity leave (and probably my last), I knew what it 'should' be like. I haven’t lived off coffee-shop cappuccinos and cake like I was planning!”
“I also really missed showing off my baby. She was going through a really cute phase of smiling and cooing and there was no one else around to see it. Longer term, it has really affected her socialisation. We were in lockdown for nearly the first 6 months of her life and consequently she loses her mind if she is held by anyone but me or her Daddy.”
As the UK’s faces yet another lockdown, Ruth shares her advice on how new parents can cope with the restrictions.
“I guess my advice would be to try and enjoy time as a little family. I'm sure you will miss visitors but there is something really special about living in a little bubble of just you and your baby. Soak up all the cuddles before the business of everyday life will inevitably come back...”
“and when it does… don't listen to anyone's advice! I think it is great to hear other people's experiences but it doesn't mean that what they did will work for you. Babies are so unique and I definitely haven't read any parenting books. I think you just have to do what is right for you and bubs”
“The worst thing was the added anxiety of the pandemic” - Sophia
Having a baby is stressful in itself, but throw in a pandemic and it's totally understandable why many new parents feel overwhelmed. As Sophia, who had her second baby during the April lockdown peak, explains,
“For me the worst thing was the added anxiety of the pandemic. I worried about the birth, what we would do with our older child, what would happen if we got sick, if the baby got sick. Just constant worry. As a result I actually found it really hard to bond with my baby after the birth. I was kind of fond of him, I could tell he was cutish, but I just didn't love him like my first. I felt like I was baby-sitting for a friend and wanted to keep him alive but that was it. I had support from the perinatal team and the more I talked about it and how anxious I was feeling about the pandemic, the better I started to feel and the more I started to bond with my baby.”
It's hard to prioritize yourself when you have a new tiny requiring 24/7 care, but Sophia's experience made her realise how important it is to talk about how you feel if you're a new mum that's struggling.
“Your GP, midwife and health visitor will support you (advice on getting support for postnatal depression can be found on the NHS website). As soon as I talked about not bonding with my baby, more people around me said it had happened to them too and that made me feel better about things and not feel like I was doing something wrong."
"It's also important to be kind to yourself. After you’ve had a baby, your body feels like you have just been hit by a truck. You are physically keeping a tiny human alive with your body. So, treat yourself! It was a pain not being able to try new clothes on, especially getting measured for a new bra once my milk came in, but I found some groups on Facebook like 'Can I breastfeed in it' and 'Boob or Bust - Bra measuring advice' really helpful."
“It's been hard not having the sort of maternity leave I was expecting with other mums, coffee mornings and groups,” Leanne - Nottingham
Leanne from Nottingham gave birth to her second child on the 22nd April, when the first wave of restrictions were at their peak.
“I think it's been hard not having the sort of maternity leave I was expecting with other mums, coffee mornings and groups,” Leanne explains. “I have two cousins both on maternity leave too and we are all close but we can't visit each other (under current guidelines). With my first child I used to see one of them once a week at a baby and mum swim class, which was lovely.”
Leanne, like many mums, relied on the support of baby groups once lockdown measures began to ease, and is hoping that they will soon open again.
“The first time I went to baby sensory I burst into tears during the opening song. I was so overwhelmed with emotion because I was finally out at a group with my daughter, and it was something I had done with my older son and was so looking forward to doing with her. The woman running it just gave me a smile and a quiet "you ok?" nod whilst I pulled myself together.”
One of the biggest challenges for new parents during the pandemic is not being able to properly introduce their new little to family and friends. Whilst virtual catch-ups can help, Zoom and Whatsapp calls are no substitute for newborn cuddles.
“It's been hard not seeing family. My nan still moans I haven't let her hold my daughter yet and my husband's family haven't met our daughter yet as they all live in Portugal and we had to cancel our visit so they probably won't meet her until she's almost one (guidelines allowing!). I know my husband has really struggled with that and it's been hard.”
Whilst seeing family and friends isn’t always possible under ever-changing lockdown rules, Leanne has found other ways to connect with new mums.
“A local mum set up a Facebook group for 'lockdown mums' in the local area which helped me to meet other mums and chat to people. Mush is also a nice app (a social app that lets mums find other mums in their area). I have two mum's from that that I talk to quite a bit now and it's a great place to ask questions from other mums.”
But for Leanne, the imposed lockdown restrictions do come with some benefits.
“One of the best things about having a baby in a pandemic is not having unexpected visitors just pop by when you're going for a lie down or you are just putting the baby to sleep. It's lovely living close to all my family but sometimes you just need quiet time!”
As restrictions tighten again, Leanne advises new mums:
“Do not stress about the restrictions. Focus on yourself, your baby and your family. The doctors and midwives will all do whatever they can for you within the guidelines and they will always put your health first.”
"I’m grateful to have had my baby this year as it means, despite the pandemic, we’ve had so much joy and laughter in our house." Samantha - Nottingham
First-time mum Samantha had her son in February, just before the first lockdown kicked in, which caused a rollercoaster of emotions.
"I think the biggest thing I would say is that it is ok to have a bad day and this doesn’t make you a bad mum. Being a new mum is a tough, anxious and exhausting time, even without a global pandemic and lockdown to contend with."
"Everyone copes with things differently, so do what works for you to get through these restrictions. Personally, I wish that I had spent more time just cuddling my son on the sofa during the first lockdown rather than worrying about getting him into a nap routine and to nap independently. I also read and googled too much and got myself worried about what my baby “should” be doing."
For Samantha, knowing that help was just a phone call away was comforting during the tighter restrictions.
"Things that I found helpful though were going out for walks every day and having other new mums to talk to. Remember that, even now, there is help available if you need it. We still had visits from the Health Visitor in the first lockdown as my son’s weight was being monitored. They were always on the end of the phone as well. There are also lots of mum groups on social media, just try not to compare yourself to others too much or get too worried based on what you see others saying - babies really are all different."
Despite the prevalence of messages on the importance of social distancing, Samantha found that sometimes strangers were a bit too keen to approach her and her baby.
"Be wary of any unwanted attention - babies are like magnets for complements. There are also a lot of complete strangers who want to look at your baby, even in a global pandemic, so people have come a little too close to the pram or pushchair for my liking."
However, despite the difficulties brought by the lockdown, Samantha ultimately found that having a baby in a global pandemic really is a positive thing that she hopes other parents will feel too.
"I’m grateful to have had my baby this year as it means, despite the pandemic, we’ve had so much joy and laughter in our house. We certainly haven’t been bored during lockdown and we’ve had the best kind of positive to make our 2020, even if it hasn’t been as we imagined."
How have you found your maternity leave in lockdown? Let us know in the comments below.
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