Record numbers of babies born in lockdown areas: How are new parents coping?

Record numbers of babies born in lockdown areas: How are new parents coping?

babyboom

There has been a record number of babies born in NSW in the second quarter of 2021, with a 9 percent surge on last year’s figures and 19,113 babies born between April and June.

It’s a huge positive to come out of a difficult year, marking what appears to have been a pandemic baby boom and the highest number of births since these quarterly records began in 2010.

But the birth of so many babies does have us questioning how the mothers of those newborns have been coping through this period. Especially for those in lockdowns, who find themselves in isolation, at a time when “the village” is not so readily available.

Indeed, the records show some of the highest baby booming areas are in Sydney’s southwest — areas that have also been facing some of the most stringent restrictions over the past couple of months, including limits on outdoor exercise time.

In Victoria, the health minister Martin Foley also indicated surging birth rates were occurring, noting back in June that “we are in fact at the moment going through a massive baby boom in Victoria, at record levels.”

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So what have been some of the impacts?

For some, there have been benefits — especially if they have a partner who has been able to continue working from home beyond their parental leave period.

But for others, the isolation has been extreme. Not only can new parents not see their family and friends — and experience the joy of introducing their baby for the first time — new mothers are also missing vital opportunities to connect with parent groups and meet other mothers in their local areas who have just had a new baby.

These parent groups (more commonly known as ‘mother’s groups’) provide a great community between parents who are often going through the same rollercoaster ride as each other, at the same time.

And while parents groups are continuing via online environments, enabling mothers to connect over Zoom and WhatsApp messages — all still valuable mechanisms for support — it’s not the same as getting out in the sunshine to meet as a group at the local park or grab a coffee together.

A recent Gidget Foundation survey of more than 2000 new and expectant parents found that 38 per cent had said the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns had significantly impacted their mental health. Almost half (43 per cent) said they had struggled with the limited access to their support networks.

Expectant parents have also been experiencing fears and anxieties around vaccines and catching COVID-19, particularly when going to the hospital to have the baby, while many are also understandably anxious about what their experiences of childbirth and having a newborn will be like during a pandemic. As Gidget Foundation Australia CEO Arabella Gibson said on the release of their findings last week, most women have worries during pregnancy about going to the hospital to give birth, but the pandemic adds an additional layer of stress and fear.

“It is tragic that many women will have to look back on their experience of being pregnant and remember the masks, sitting in waiting rooms alone and not being able to have visitors come visit them and meet their new bundles of joy. These might sound like trivial things, but psychologically, it’s not the pregnancy experience that women will have envisioned, and that can be hard to accept.”

Meanwhile, international researchers have reported higher rates of postnatal depression during lockdowns, including a May 2021 European study finding almost half of women with babies six months or younger met the definition of experiencing postnatal depression, almost doubling the pre-pandemic average.

Those surveyed during the study by UCL researchers reported feelings of worry, exhaustion, guilt, inadequacy, stress and isolation. They were grieving for the missed opportunities their newborns wouldn’t have, and concerned about how the lack of interaction with others might impact their newborns.

The UCL study also saw mothers reporting a “burden of constant mothering” due to the lack of support available. Those Zoom catch-ups and phone calls are great, but they are no match for having somebody else — a friend, sister, a father — actually holding your baby for you while you take a break.

During more “normal” times in Australia, around one in five new mums and one in ten new dads will experience postnatal depression — highlighting the sheer volume of new parents at risk when you consider the “baby boom” that appears to have occurred in the months before Winter lockdowns.

If you’ve had a baby or been pregnant in the past 18 months, please take our survey.

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