When Baby Lewi was born last New Year’s Eve, first-time parents Wade and Miranda Jackson thought the year ahead was going to be “amazing”.
They were right.
Horrific fires gave way to COVID-19 and lockdown, and with it the removal of many of the support networks new parents rely on – from mothers’ groups to extended family.
The fear of smoke inhalation issues came early in the year. “We were more concerned about his lungs and getting fresh air. COVID kind of snuck up behind us,” Ms Jackson says.
Now well into the Stage 4 lockdown and mandatory mask wearing, Ms Jackson’s biggest concern is Lewi’s social development.
At eight months old, Lewi should be focusing on faces and learning how to read facial expressions, Ms Jackson says.
“Wade and I obviously don’t wear masks at home but it’s a bit disappointing and a little bit concerning that he doesn’t get to respond to anyone else when we go out each day,” she says.
“Just something as simple as having the freedom to look at someone’s face isn’t there right now.”
According to leading Australian parenting website raisingchildren.net, face masks can cause anxiety to babies and young children, who pay a lot of attention to people’s faces. They advise parents to get their young ones used to the idea of masks through play.
Mandy Burns, an early intervention teacher for supported playgroups at Access Health, is encouraging mothers to do more interaction and face-to-face play with infants.
“They do pick up a lot of their cues, but giving them that opportunity to interact with a responsive adult is going to be the most helpful for them,” she says.
She’s noticed the impact social isolation is having on mothers. “They are not having that interaction with their normal family, so they are home alone without maybe as much support.
“For new mums it’s quite hard, not been able to have the new mums’ group the way they normally would. Not being able to have other people coming in to help or being able to meet someone down at the park.”
For Ms Jackson, missing out on mothers’ group was “really sad”.
“I know that we look forward to mothers’ group for quite a long time and it’s a really good way to connect with the community,” she says.
“There were certain women in my group who were desperate to form relationships and essentially, we were forced to communicate in WhatsApp. It’s not a natural relationship and nothing really formed.”
Sarah Pearson, mother to 10-month-old Oscar, is grateful she had the opportunity to attend a mothers’ group before COVID-19.
Through questions and storytelling, mothers’ group gave Ms Pearson the opportunity to get advice and ideas on what the other mothers had been trying with their bubs. Once the group formed, they started catching up fortnightly with their babies and chatting over Messenger, Ms Pearson says.
“We would ask each other so many questions and offer support to one another. It was a huge help to be able to chat to other women going through the same things as you and watch our babies grow,” she says.
I’m sad that other first time mums have missed out on this as it can be a really lonely time.
However, missing out on mothers’ group has not been all doom and gloom for Ms Jackson, who feels connected to other communities. “I luckily have different communities of babies and I feel really connected to my local community because of the dog park,” she said.
Ms Jackson is grateful to have had Lewi during this time.
“I think it’s given me something entirely different to think about. Having him at home with me and not being allowed to go out has meant that I am much more attuned to what he needs,” she said.