Life hasn’t stopped for anyone, even when the pandemic unexpectedly disrupted most everything in our world. Our individual lives, struggles, triumphs, and complications all persisted (or have even been exacerbated) as the pandemic has shaped daily life and most things have gotten harder as a result. Those of us who are pregnant or have had pregnant partners during this last year or who have had babies can certainly attest to experiencing additional complexities to an already complex process. Whether this was your first or a subsequent pregnancy, 2020 was likely trickier than you expected.
If you have already given birth and are now caring for your new baby, you might have found that doing so in an age of social distancing can be a daunting task at times. Whatever level of caution you have chosen, you might find that your typical family, social, or activity resources aren’t as accessible as usual. This can lead to new parents feeling the weight of caring for a baby in circumstances that can be isolating or lonesome. As we strive toward the time when the pandemic relents and our options are more available, it is useful to consider ways to creatively adapt our parenting to a more limited world.
Many new parents have also expressed worry that their baby isn’t receiving enough stimulation or the things they need in order to develop as a result of the pandemic. There is good news here… babies thrive even if they only have one caregiver so long as their needs are being consistently met. This doesn’t mean you need to be constantly engaging them, just receptive to their needs.
Below are a few ways to spend time with your baby that can help relieve stress, improve bonds with your baby, and perhaps even bring a smile to both of your faces.
- Hold your baby close, and gently dance along to music that you find uplifting. Music can positively impact mood and can also bring healthy cognitive stimulation to both you and baby.
- Hold baby while they are sleeping and allow yourself a few moments of sensory mindfulness. Use several of your five senses to take in positive sensations you are experiencing. Smell the top of baby’s head and allow yourself to be soothed by the fragrance. Listen to the soft sound of their breathing. Feel the warmth from their body on yours (skin to skin time is a great time to try this).
- Show baby photos on your wall, and tell them stories about the people or events in them. Whereas your baby might not understand everything you are saying or showing them, they are drawn to the visual stimuli found in photos and are also attentive to the sound of our voice. Interestingly, this is an activity that can be done many times over the months/years and as baby grows older their participation, engagement, and understanding of the photos and the stories in them will change. It’s never too early to start.
- Get outside your home in socially distanced ways that align with your values and level of caution. Walks with baby around the neighborhood might be a nice change of pace from staying home all the time. Play music or a podcast you enjoy as you go, or simply enjoy the sounds of your environment.
- Set baby in a swing, bouncer, etc. and let your baby watch you as you complete household tasks such as cooking or cleaning. You don’t have to be holding or playing with baby to be connected with or engaging them directly. Babies learn a tremendous amount simply by observing and allowing them time to sit back while you take care of chores can be both helpful to your task list and also beneficial for them.
- Connect with loved ones over a virtual channel such as Zoom. Even if we cannot be physically present with everyone we wish to be, we can create virtual opportunities for others to share in our experience. Show off baby and the cute outfit you might have chosen today (outfits with included baby hats are particularly awesome). You might show others how baby is learning to smile or roll over, even letting others see the peacefulness of baby sleeping. The point is to push back on the inherent isolation we might face by creatively inviting others into your and baby’s lives.
- Infant Massage. My colleague, Lauren Jobe, LCSW, is also certified in infant massage and she recommends using infant massage to enhance the parent/child bonding experience (she is able to use teletherapy to coach parents and caregivers in the comforts of their own homes, call 720.675.7123 to learn more).
I am hopeful we will be able to expand our worlds soon, but until that day comes, I invite you to build your repertoire of techniques, skills, and ideas of ways to manage the complexities of parenting in a pandemic. Most importantly, I encourage you to be patient and gracious with yourself. What you are doing is exceptionally hard, and it is deeply important to have grace for the ways in which you might not feel perfect or “good enough.” This is a once in a lifetime type of world we are living in, and I want to remind you that you can make it through the challenges you face through creative adaptation, a willingness to be consistent for baby and by being kind to yourself.