Connecting with new parents after lockdown isolation
Davina Belcher and Kira Montague from LEAP’s Community Engagement Team describe how they organised a festival for pregnant mums, and parents who’d had babies in lockdown.
This blog was originally published on the The National Lottery Community Fund website for the A Better Start programme.
The past year of lockdowns has been particularly isolating for new parents. It made us reflect on how important it is to create informal spaces where babies, new parents and professionals can connect, communicate and learn from each other.
“It has become quite difficult to find an outlet to bond with other parents and in lockdown it is not easy to meet with fellow mums,” commented Kadz, a first-time mum of a three-month-old baby, during a LEAP Parent forum.
“In my experience of volunteering I have seen such a need for ‘lockdown babies’ to interact,” added Diana, a LEAP Parent Champion, who has been doing volunteering work outdoors over the summer.
The effects of isolation
We heard these insights echoed by parents, professionals and volunteers. What stood out was hearing new parents talk about being alone and not having opportunities to meet other parents. They weren’t able to be in spaces where they could ‘bump into’ early years professionals and ask in-the-moment questions about their baby.
Research into the first lockdown, published by the First 1001 Days Movement, confirms the risks that the pandemic has posed to new mums and dads and their babies:
“Pregnancy, birth, the early months… should be considered as an additional 'risk factor' for lockdown harms to children due to the specific needs and vulnerabilities in this age range.”
Two thirds of parents said COVID-19 has impacted their ability to cope with their pregnancy or baby, according to another report. And nearly 40% of pregnant respondents were concerned about getting reliable pregnancy advice.
How has LEAP responded?
LEAP’s community engagement team along with Parent Champion volunteers, collaborated to develop ‘Bump Baby & Me’, a free festival for parents-to-be and those who had babies during lockdown.
The festival aimed to create opportunities for parents to build connections with each other, ask questions to professionals, and engage with LEAP services.
‘Bump, Baby & Me’ had 34 varied sessions, involving health partners such as midwives, GPs and Health Visitors, focusing on the aims of A Better Start: improving children’s outcomes in communication and language; diet and nutrition; and social and emotional development.
Parents experience of Bump, Baby & Me
We surveyed parents and professionals about the value of the event in allowing parents, babies and practitioners to connect. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
95% of new parents felt they knew more about the different services and support available for them and their baby. 100% were now more likely to attend a LEAP activity in the future.
Jerome, a first time father who has since become a LEAP Parent Champion put it into words: “The festival was my first introduction to LEAP, which I've since found to be a helpful one-stop shop for information and activities for my child and a network of support. The sessions I attended provided practical advice including on making brushing teeth more fun and activities to help my baby communicate.”
91% said they learnt new information to support them on their journey as a parent:
“The sessions reminded me what it was like after my first child was born. I thought it was incredibly useful… It reminded me to prepare the second baby just as good as for the first.”
“The importance of together time…I am my child’s favourite toy! I have everything she needs.”
“The sharing stories session was really helpful…it showed how beneficial it can be to hear different parents' experiences. It gave me more confidence to want to participate in parent sessions with a children's centre.”
“Being less hard on myself.”
“How to speak up about my needs.”
Practitioners benefitted too
All the practitioners who participated felt that their Bump, Baby & Me sessions were a success:
“Really successful, feedback from parents has been great… and they really appreciated the opportunity to talk teeth as they didn't know how to access the information or that they even had any questions or queries regarding looking after their child’s teeth. Parents said they would share what they had learnt and would like to see more information on teeth available.” (Oral health specialist)
“I feel this idea is brilliant for families… it really values the early years and the role of parents and, I am sure, sparked conversations within families.” (Midwife)
“Especially (necessary) following COVID…It provided a lot of information in easy to digest chunks.” (Fathers’ worker)
Covid restrictions have impacted the ability of new parents to form networks of support and access trusted information. We developed Bump, Baby & Me in response to this situation. It has demonstrated the value of creating these spaces, why they should be celebrated and the importance of continuing them into the new normal.