Coronavirus: Lockdown negatively affected babies' behaviour and development

Katy Morton
Friday, August 7, 2020

A new report finds that the Coronavirus lockdown has been detrimental for babies and their parents and warns the effects could be long lasting.

The Babies in Lockdown report reveals the impact of the pandemic on both children and their parents
The Babies in Lockdown report reveals the impact of the pandemic on both children and their parents

Based upon a survey of more than 5,000 parents, the Babies in Lockdown report reveals that almost 7 in 10 (68 per cent) respondents said their ability to cope with their pregnancy or baby has been impacted by Covid-19, with nearly nine in 10 reporting that they were more anxious as a result.

The findings are based on responses to an online survey by Home Start, Best Beginnings and the Parent-Infant Foundation, which ran between 29 April and 3 June. The three charities work to improve outcomes for parents and children with a focus on the early years.

Findings from the survey highlight a range of issues parents have faced including increased mental health concerns, difficult birthing experiences, dads and other co-parents being excluded from the ‘pregnancy journey’, and digital health appointments leaving some women feeling exposed and humiliated.

Key findings include:

  • Almost half of parents reported that their baby had become more clingy, while one quarter said their baby cried more than usual.
  • Nearly 7 in 10 said their ability to cope with their pregnancy or baby had been impacted by Covid-19.
  • Nearly 4 in 10 pregnant respondents were concerned about getting reliable pregnancy information and advice.
  • Just 1 in 10 parents of under-twos said they had seen a health visitor face-to-face.
  • Over a quarter of those breastfeeding felt they had not received the support they required.
  • Parents from low-income households, aged under 25 years and from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities have been particularly affected by the pandemic.

Parents’ comments

One parent living in London with her two-year-old said, ‘Lockdown has been so stressful, especially early on when we couldn’t even go out for fresh air. My daughter picked up on how I was feeling - she became very clingy in a way she’d never been before, I couldn’t even shower properly because she got so upset. Before lockdown she was fine - now I feel she could sense what was going on and it even made her feel depressed.’

A mother in Scotland who is five months pregnant and has a two-year-old commented, ‘My two-year-old has become violent and upset quite a lot of the time due to the pandemic. He’s finding it hard just seeing and being in contact with two people. I fear the effect lockdown will have on him later in life.’

Another mother from the West Midlands with a one-month-old baby said, ‘(My) baby (was) not feeding so I was sent home with a care plan. This failed as the midwife refused to come to my home to provide a breast pump. I couldn’t buy one as the shops were shut. This resulted in not having any way to feed my baby. The midwife told me over the phone that I essentially would just have to bottle feed.’

Recommendations

While the survey highlights many issues facing parents during the pandemic, the three charities claim that many of these existed before Covid-19, such as gaps in services and inequalities in early experiences and outcomes, and the pandemic has only exacerbated and illuminated these.

The charities state that without decisive action, the post Covid-19 lottery will worsen existing inequalities. As a result, they are calling for three fiscal measures to support children’s first 1,001 days, they are:

  • A one-off Baby Boost to enable local services to support families who have had a baby during or close to lockdown. 
  • A new Parent-Infant Premium providing new funding for local commissioners, targeted at improving outcomes for the most vulnerable children.
  • Significant and sustained investment in core funding to support families from conception to age two and above, including statutory services, charities and community groups.

Peter Grigg, chief executive of Home-Start, said, ‘This report exposes how unequal the experiences of parents and babies to Covid-19 have been. These proposals for a Baby Boost and Parent Infant Premium represent clear, simple interventions that can be made now to help make sure we avoid a post-Covid lottery in the future. We want to improve the well-being of all babies to ensure a happier and successful next generation.’

Beckie Lang, chief executive of the Parent-Infant Foundation, added, ‘Around 200,000 babies were born during the height of the lockdown, with many more just before and since. It is time for national leadership and a rescue, recovery and repair plan for the nation’s youngest children if we are to create a better, more equitable society in which more children can thrive. The opportunity to act is now.’

  • The Babies in Lockdown report is available here 

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