The impact on the mental health of new families in the Covid-19 Pandemic

The impact of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown policies on families have been well documented.

The latest report ‘No one wants to see my baby’ (November 2021) that was created in collaboration with Best Beginnings, Home start and the Parent Infant Foundation discussed how parents are still struggling to access essential services to help them through pregnancy and beyond

The absence or inaccessibility of community baby and toddler groups has exacerbated feelings of loneliness and isolation which has taken its toll on parents/carers. We know that parent mental wellbeing is essential for the development for secure attachment between parent/carer and their baby. It is well documented that having a secure attachment and receiving good enough responsive care in the first 2 years of life supports every aspect of our development and leads to better outcomes in adult life.

As a charity we felt compelled to act; as soon as restrictions had lifted we wanted to support our local community and offer provision to the families who were most in need. In June 2020 Clear sky raised sufficient funding through the Aviva Community Fund to provide sufficient resources to allow us to deliver two Baby Bonding groups.

Baby Bonding is an early help programme which is grounded in the latest attachment and neuroscience research and focuses on strengthening the relationship between parent/carer and baby. We contacted our local children’s centre; The Happy Hub in Cholsey, Oxfordshire to discuss the offer of hosting a group for their families and set about recruiting parents/carers who would be interested in attending.

We attended a drop-in session at the Happy Hub to share information and sign up interested parents/carers. We were conscious of the fact that parents/carers might feel apprehensive about joining a group setting after such a long time in isolation. We therefore gave out reassurance about what to expect from the group with the aim to put their minds at ease. We assured parents that the group would be informal and relaxed, that their baby does not need to ‘be good’ and they would be invited to try out the activities and take away what feels most relevant and helpful to them.

6 parents and their babies signed up to the initial group. Attendance was generally good and most parents attended each week. The group was held on Thursday mornings at 10.30am for 50 minutes. The group started in September 2021 and ran for 6 sessions.

The group was mostly made up of mothers and their babies and one childminder. The babies ranged from 6 weeks old to 8 months old. The group members were mostly from the local area and were familiar with the children’s centre. Parents/carers were at different stages of their parenting journey, some parents were more experienced and had older children whilst others were first time mothers and had not been to a baby group before.

The group sessions consisted of gentle, playful and creative activities centred around the three core attachment mechanisms; reflective functioning, containment and marked mirroring. The group focused on creating a calming and nurturing environment for both parent/carer and baby “to be” as opposed “to do” in order to focus on their relationship. The sessions consisted of the same structure each week to create a sense of predictability and consistency and so that parents knew what to  expect, and have reduced anxiety about the unknown.

On entering the room, the parents/carers were welcomed by soothing music and calming scents of lavender and bergamot from our aromatherapy diffuser. This approach supports parents/carers to transition from the business of day-to-day life, to a space where they can slow down and focus on themselves and their babies. Each session begins with a ‘hello song’ to welcome everybody into the room and then an opportunity for parents /carers to take some time to settle and enjoy a guided breathing/grounding ritual.

Baby Bonding emphasises the importance of validating the challenges parenting creates in our modern world and offers tools and support to help manage the challenges that commonly arise throughout pregnancy and beyond.

The next part of the session is called ‘baby watching’ and is centred around the concept of Reflective Functioning (also known as ‘Head, Heart & Hands’ in Baby Bonding) which is an evidence-based communication tool that supports attunement; loving and responsive care. Following ‘baby watching’ we move onto ‘baby strokes’ where parents/carers learn techniques of how to massage their babies and how to read their body language and cues. We then move onto a relevant topic relating to baby development such as play, communication and brain development. We end our sessions with a creative activity such as a guided relaxation, story or poem. The final session is a celebration of the commitment from the parents/carers who attend the group, a reflection on what we have shared over the past 6 weeks and signposting them to ongoing support as required.

Our parents completed an assessment of the course and provided us with great feedback:

“Nice to know everyone is in the same boat and feeling the same”

“Baby watching was very relaxing and calming both for carer and baby”

“Positive time to be with our baby, watching and learning”

“Breathing techniques – calming and good coping strategy for stressful moments with a poorly baby who does not want to put down on their own”

“Breathing techniques were great – so useful to slow things down”

“I found empowerment most helpful to discuss as a group, I find my mother quite controlling and stood up to her (in a nice way) and stood my ground”

If you are interested in Baby Bonding, or becoming a Baby Bonding practitioner, please get in touch or look at our courses page!