The confusing, lonely reality of having a baby during lockdown

Dimitri Otis via Getty Images / WIRED

Starting to feel like you’ve spent half your life in lockdown? For my daughter that is literally the case.
At five months old, she knows little more than the four walls of our flat and her parents’ faces. My brief foray into the world of infant classes – baby swimming, baby massage, baby yoga (you name it, South West London has got it) – has been brought to an abrupt end. Meet-ups with other new mums have gone, and along with them the chance to look each other in the eye and say “No, you’re not going crazy, this is really bloody hard, and I feel it too.”


Like many parents, I’ve had an occasional pang of wondering whether a lack of interesting new humans and stimulating environments will affect my daughter’s development. But to be honest, I’ve more often felt sorry for myself. My situation is privileged in many ways, but it’s hard being housebound with a baby.
During pregnancy, older, wiser mothers advised me to get out and about as much as possible once the baby arrived. “It’s the only way to stay sane,” they agreed. Lockdown is tough for everyone and I’m certainly not at experiencing the worst of the pandemic, but staying upbeat during the relentless, sleep-deprived marathon of caring for a small child with zero distractions is challenging.
Tens of parents are in the same situation. Lockdown has forced them to tackle the challenges of raising a child without the usual support network of classes, family and friends to help them.
Psychologist Emma Svanberg specialises in new mothers, and says lack of companionship can be an issue. Parental leave during lockdown is a far cry from the coffee shop and playgroup whirlwind many soon-to-be parents imagined. “New motherhood can feel incredibly isolating and lonely, and meeting up with others in a similar position can feel so normalising,” she says. “The early days you were looking forward to will be very different, and it’s okay to feel a sense of loss for that.”


Svanberg has also seen a rise in anxiety during the pandemic. “New mums can feel vulnerable at the best of times, and uncertainty about support available is increasing anxiety for many,” she says. Cut off, at least physically, from traditional support structures such as family and friends, new parents can find themselves lacking the reassurance and guidance of those close to them.
It’s an especially worrying time for pregnant women. Although there’s no evidence that coronavirus affects them more severely than the general population, expectant mums have been placed in the vulnerable category by the government and told to be extra vigilant. Along with catching the virus, there’s also the concern of being left unsupported in hospital. Women must attend antenatal appointments and scans alone, and, understandably, their partner cannot attend the birth if they develop any coronavirus symptoms. Even partners that are present when the baby arrives are asked to go soon afterwards, leaving exhausted mothers alone with their newborns.
Irina, 31, from Kent, gave birth to her first son in April. “The staff were wearing masks, gloves and aprons, and there was hand sanitiser and advice on washing your hands everywhere,” she says. “I found this very reassuring, but it was stressful when my husband had to leave a couple of hours after the birth. I knew my son and I would be in hospital for a while, and that my husband wouldn’t be allowed to visit.”
Irina and her son were kept in hospital for nine days. “It was very difficult,” she says. “The lack of sleep from caring for a baby and being in a shared ward gets the better of you after a while. Not having visitors meant less emotional and practical support at a time when I was already feeling very vulnerable. The hospital staff were amazing, even though they were extremely busy. They would offer you a cup of tea, have a chat and help look after the baby when they could see you were too exhausted.”


The NHS needs to take precautions, but Svanberg says birth trauma could be exacerbated by lockdown conditions. “Services in the NHS were already incredibly over-stretched with many staff burnt out,” she says. “Partners often fill a crucial role in support before, during and after birth. I’m concerned we’ll see an increase in rates of birth trauma.”
A difficult birth can make it harder for mums to bond with their babies, and lead to PTSD, which previously affected between three and four per cent of new mothers. Postnatal depression, meanwhile, affects one in ten women. Svanberg says it is too soon to know whether this will increase, but she worries that those who are suffering will be overlooked. “Many of the mums who are experiencing perinatal mental health struggles will not be recognised by services because of the reduced in person support,” she says. Home visits from midwives and health visitors, which usually happen in the days after the birth, are now conducted over the phone, making problems easy to miss.
The picture sounds overwhelmingly gloomy, but there are upsides to having a baby in lockdown. For many parents, it’s a chance to spend precious time with their newborns. This is particularly true for dads. With only seven per cent of parents taking shared parental leave and the bulk of childcare still done by women, many dads see little of their kids during the week. Lockdown, however, has changed that.
In my case, my husband working from home means commuting hours can be replaced with morning bottles and evening baths. While our baby may be missing out on new faces and places, she’s receiving a hefty dose of parental attention instead. “Without the pressure of visitors and getting out and about quickly, many parents are finding that they can focus on just making the transition to becoming a parent, and getting to know their new baby in a way that they couldn’t have usually,” says Svanberg.
Video conferencing platforms have provided a lifeline to new parents. My postnatal pilates class, designed to whip those pelvic floors back into shape, is now held successfully via Jitsi Meet. I have weekly catch-ups with new mum friends using Houseparty, and the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) is running its courses on Zoom.
In terms of convenience, there’s definitely something to be said for this. It was much easier to attend a two-hour NCT weaning workshop from the comfort of my bedroom, rather than dragging a screaming five-month old along to the local church hall. Many new parents will acknowledge the wonder of your own personal mute button during group video calls. On the other hand, I feel sad for people who only ever get to attend their antenatal classes via video link, providing less chance to bond with other new parents. Can friendship really blossom without socialising in person? After all, it’s the coffee breaks and pre-class chats where you cement a relationship, not during seminars on the nitty-gritty of labour.
Classes aimed at entertaining babies have also moved online, although I’ve found my daughter unengaged when not in the midst of the action. An unsuccessful attempt at baby music via Zoom revealed she finds it far less engrossing watching a screen than sitting in a room full of one-year-olds bashing tambourines while their mums valiantly belt out ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’. No matter how operatic my performance, I can’t recreate the atmosphere alone.
Child development experts say that lack of contact during lockdown will have little impact on babies. “Babies enjoy growing up with a daily routine and a safe, caring environment,” says paediatrician Sophie Niedermaier-Patramani. “They gain a sense of security and resilience from their closest caregivers, so there is no need to worry about the absence of wider family and friends.”
Even older children will adapt quickly, she says. “Children include other kids into their play around the age of three. This is when they start developing social skills with peers of the same age and truly benefit from spending time around other children. The wonderful thing about children’s brains is that they adapt easily to these challenging times, and will replace peers with parents of older siblings to train their social skills. Once lockdown is loosened, they will catch up quickly.”
And, if you are struggling, don’t feel ashamed to pick up the phone to a friend, family member or health professional. “There’s a narrative developing, that this is a time to reassess our values, learn new skills and practice gratitude, which makes it very difficult to voice any problems you’re having,” says Svanberg. “We are in a pandemic, and living with a daily threat. That, together with becoming a parent, is a huge transition to deal with. So, if you’re finding it hard, you’re not alone.”
Perhaps it’s a good time to remind ourselves of that parenting mantra passed down through generations, a motto to deal with teething woes or your baby suddenly deciding 4:15am is a reasonable wake-up time: “This too shall pass”.
More great stories from WIRED
🤑 Inside the ‘bullshit’ get-rich-quick world of dropshipping
🎵 The secret behind the success of Apple’s AirPods
📖 How coronavirus kills, one organ at a time
🎲 The best board games for adults and families


🔒 The UK’s lockdown rules, explained
👉 Follow WIRED on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn

Get The Email from WIRED, your no-nonsense briefing on all the biggest stories in technology, business and science. In your inbox every weekday at 12pm sharp.

by entering your email address, you agree to our privacy policy

Thank You. You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter. You will hear from us shortly.
Sorry, you have entered an invalid email. Please refresh and try again.

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest

Leave a comment

Why You Need A Website