When parents welcomed a new baby into the family in 2019, they probably had a baby shower. They went to childbirth and maybe breastfeeding classes. After the baby arrived, they introduced them to family and friends in the first few days. If they were lucky, they received help so they could shower and nap. After a couple of days or weeks, they could venture out to go to breastfeeding support groups or baby story time at the library. And still, the life of new parents was often stressful, exhausting and isolating. Then enter 2020. How do you support new parents during Covid-19?
Research shows that postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety are skyrocketing. One study suggested that 72% of the mothers of babies born since Covid-19 broke out are struggling with postpartum anxiety. As a parent, I sympathize. As a postpartum doula, it worries me. Parenting, especially early parenting, should not be done alone. Yet, when parents must isolate for their safety and their baby’s, what choice do they have?
If you are one of those lovely friends, siblings, grandparents, etc. who relishes helping out the new parents you love, you may be feeling at a loss now that you can’t visit in person and snuggle baby. It may not be the same … what is in 2020?… but you can still help.
Here’s some ideas for how to support new parents during Covid-19:
- Food. In the haze of feeding baby, changing diapers, walking and bouncing, new parents rarely have time to prepare nourishing meals. Food is a practical way to show your support and you can drop it off on their doorstep without any contact. If the kitchen is your happy place, make some freezer meals for the family. If you have a good recipe for freezer-friendly burritos, whip it out. Any nourishing food that can be consumed one handed is perfect for those early months. If the thought of having to cook for more people makes you cringe, think about dropping off some take-out or go to the grocery store and fill up a bag with filling, yummy snacks. Think fresh fruits and veggies, granola bars, popcorn, dried fruit, hard boiled eggs, sliced cheese or cheese sticks, finger sandwiches, beef jerky, whole grain crackers, yogurt pouches, nuts or seeds, trail mix, bottled smoothies and dark chocolate. Just remember: ask about food allergies, sensitivities and preferences.
- Be a listening ear. Lots of people will ask new parents about the baby’s sleep, the baby’s weight, the baby’s eating. Too few remember to also ask how the parent is. It’s such a rare thing for someone to express genuine interest in how a parent with a new baby is doing that Meghan Markle teared up on screen when someone finally did. Sometimes a parent just needs to talk. If they don’t open up spontaneously, try saying “The transition to life with a new baby can be hard. How’s it going for you?” Don’t judge and only offer advice if they ask for it. Remember, their journey, their baby and their family may be totally different than yours. It is much more helpful to just listen and acknowledge that this is hard rather than to try to “fix” their feelings or their baby. Note: All new parents have a lot of emotions and the “baby blues” are common, but if you suspect a new parent you care about is suffering from a postpartum mental health disorder gently encourage them to seek help or talk to their partner about it. You can also text them the numbers for the Postpartum Support International Helplines: 1-800-944-4773 (calls) and 503-894-9453 (texts).
- Take baby for a walk. Parents who may not feel comfortable having visitors cuddle face-to-face with their little one may feel better about letting a friend or family member take the baby for a walk in the fresh air. Even with cooler weather on the way, a baby can be bundled into their stroller. If a parent is feeling lonely or stir crazy, they may want to join you. Assure them that if they’d rather sleep, eat or shower, though, you are happy to give them an hour of alone time. Time your walk for just after the baby has been fed so a hungry infant doesn’t cut your walk short.
- Don’t forget siblings. Being a first time parent has many challenges, but often second (or more) time parents get less attention. We assume that they know the ropes. But having a newborn and other children around means parents need more help not less. Brainstorm ways you can bond with other children in the family. If mom mentions her third grader is struggling with math and you are a math whiz, can you do a Zoom math help session? If it’s hard for the kids to sit still during a video chat, check out Caribu. This app allows you to read stories and play tic-tac-toe or matching games while you chat. Of course in these days of remote learning and a lot of screen time, kids could very well be all Zoom-ed out. So think of a safe way to be with older children in person. Autumn is a great time for nature walks if parents are comfortable with that. When winter hits, think snowman building, snowball fights or outdoor ice skating. If none of these work, consider making a care package. Small toys, single player games, sticker books, favorite snacks, non-messy art supplies, and quiet books can be included. If you really want to earn a gold star for support, fill several plastic shoe boxes with activities to keep a sibling busy. Suggest mom rotate them when she needs to nurse or rest.
- Laundry help. Is there anything more exhausting than seeing a giant pile of dirty laundry after a day (and night) spent feeding, burping, singing, rocking and walking a newborn? Call a new parent and tell them to leave a laundry bag(s) of dirty laundry outside. You will return it later that day cleaned and folded. If they resist the idea, remind them that your family wears undies, too. You aren’t going to be shocked by the sight of their unmentionables.
- Send books. Maybe it’s just me, but I always think books are a great way to support anybody any time. There aren’t many readers who haven’t experienced the magic of finding or receiving just the right book at the right time. In the case of new parents, though, I am not talking about more “how to” parenting books. Chances are parents already have plenty of books on how to make their baby sleep, how to stop their baby crying or how to make sure their baby is multilingual and can code robots before their second birthday. When I say books, I mean books the parents love to read or books they will love to share with their children. For parents, if they loved bodice rippers, true crime or humorous memoirs before having kids, send them one of those. Or get them a gift membership through Libro.fm. They can pick out audiobooks to listen to as they go about their day with the baby. And send one or two for the parents to share with baby or their other children. Reading together is one of the very best ways to promote family bonding. And that’s a wonderful way of supporting new parents.
- Hire a doula. Whether it’s because you are too far away to offer a lot of hands-on help or because you want to make sure the new parents you love have the very best possible postpartum support, a postpartum doula may be the answer. A trained professional, doulas will do just about everything on this list and more. They are experts on newborn care and receive training to support breastfeeding. Some doulas are fully certified lactation counselors. All doulas have lists of local professionals to refer parents to for more support. They can also connect parents to virtual baby classes, support groups or other families to help build their “village” for the long haul. You can find doulas on Doula Match. Perhaps the most valuable reason to hire a professional is this: a good doula will help parents feel more confident and comfortable in making the right choices for their family.