Adjusting to life with a newborn has always been an emotional, life-changing experience. Adding a pandemic on top of that adds a whole new set of challenges and stressors that new parents need to learn to navigate. We know there is no instruction manual for raising a baby, especially during a pandemic, but there is a list of guidelines that loved ones can follow to support new parents and their babies.
1. Do not be offended if you haven’t been invited to meet the new baby yet. In pre-pandemic times, friends and families rotated in and out of a new parents’ home, bringing gifts and holding the new bundle of joy. Now, in the midst of the pandemic, many parents are allowing only a select few immediate family members to come and meet the new baby.
If you are not on that list, do not be offended or take it personally. The parents would love for you to meet the baby and are likely heart-broken that they are missing out on the once-in-a-lifetime experience of watching loved ones meet their new addition for the first time. Please remember, parents are only limiting visitors to protect their baby’s health and safety.
2. If you are invited to meet the baby, follow the precautions requested by the parents. Many parents, at the recommendations of their pediatrician, will have some specific guidelines set in place when you meet their baby. This can include keeping the meeting outdoors, wearing a mask throughout the visit, and washing your hands before coming in contact. They may also prefer that you do not hold their baby at this time. Be respectful and understand the extra anxiety of having a newborn during a pandemic. Do not be insulted, as it is not a reflection of you, just the health and safety guidelines of the pandemic.
Failing to stick to these guidelines can make the parents of the baby feel uneasy or awkward if they have to remind you of the precautions. It can also take away from the fun and excitement of meeting the baby. So, stick to the rules and enjoy this special experience that you will remember for years to come!
3. Respect the boundaries put in place by the parents. New parents — make that, all parents — are responsible for the health and wellness of their child. Deciding what is best for your baby is no easy task — especially in these unprecedented times. Many parents of babies born during COVID-19 have gone through great lengths to research the latest health recommendations, confer with their pediatrician, and develop boundaries that they feel are best to keep their family safe.
To avoid adding more stress or guilt for new parents, loved ones should avoid trying to bend their rules or question their decisions. This could pertain to their decisions about childcare, visitors, or which activities they choose to participate in and which to skip. Likely these boundaries they have put in place have them feeling a little isolated and stressed.
Your cooperation and respect for their decisions may be just what is needed to help the new parents feel a little more at ease with their new way of life.
4. Check in on the parents’ mental health. With less people around physically to help, and with health and overall life concerns brought on by the pandemic, many new parents are feeling isolated, stressed, and exhausted. Now is the time to check in on the parents’ mental health and support them as best and as safely as you can. Ask them if they are getting enough sleep and if they are eating well. Be a great listener and pay attention to what they are sharing stories about.
Are they talking about the wonder and excitement of watching their baby grow, or are the conversations mostly filled with tears, regrets, emotional and physical pain, or concerns? When you end a conversation with the new parent, are you concerned for their well-being? Are you concerned they might harm themselves or their baby? Trust your instincts — you know your loved ones well. Let the new parents know that free resources are available — most towns have new parent groups that can be found through online research.
Other resources include Jewish Family and Children’s Services and First Connections. Another excellent resource is their baby’s pediatrician. Deborah Simon, MD, of Acton Medical Pediatrics explains, “Pediatricians not only take care of the medical needs of the newborn but are a source of support for the parents as well. Pediatricians focus on the whole family, the environment in which they live, and the family dynamics.
Both pediatricians and obstetricians have many resources for support, so encourage the parents to not keep their emotional challenges to themselves. There are many professionals around them to help them find support.”
5. Be creative and support them in COVID-safe ways. During the pandemic, gone are the days when family members and friends can drop by to cook dinner, help around the house, or just hold the baby while a parent takes a long-awaited shower or nap. But there are still things you can do to show your support that are pandemic-friendly.
Send them a gift card for a meal delivery service such as DoorDash or GrubHub, offer to pick up groceries and drop them off on their porch, send a card with encouraging words, or offer to schedule a virtual hangout session to see the baby and hear all about their new life as parents. Even if you are not able to see the new family in person, let them know you care by keeping in regular touch with them.
6. Keep the well-being of the baby as a top priority. With the excitement of a new baby, it can be easy to lose sight of the importance of social distancing and other safe practices — it can be tempting to let your guard down. But since there is not enough scientific research about how the virus can affect babies in both the short and long term, it is important to stay vigilant. According to Scott Paparello, DO, medical director of infectious diseases at Emerson Hospital and internal medicine physician with Acton Medical Associates, “Babies should be treated during COVID just as you would the very elderly and those with high-risk factors. There is simply not enough research yet to know how the virus will impact them.”
While all of the guidelines may seem overwhelming, it is important to remember that the virus is temporary, and babies will have a whole lifetime of opportunities to meet loved ones and make lasting memories. The best thing you can do for them (and their families) is helping to keep them safe and healthy and be there as part of their key support team!
Emerson Podcast: Labor and Delivery During the Pandemic
Avery Fisher, certified nurse midwife, discusses labor and delivery in the time of COVID-19.
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