Raising Babies in the COVID-19 Era
My son Azlaan was born in October 2019. He was less than six months old when the COVID-19 scare became real, the lockdown was imposed, and we became completely homebound.
We didn’t think much of it in the beginning. Honestly, I didn’t think about it at all because I was worried my older one may have trouble being locked in at home. We were concentrating on him so that he would have something to do all the time.
To my delight, Azlaan was okay throughout, and obviously, that made me happy seeing both my children were not doing too badly and taking it relatively well. We took the kids out on weekends for walks or to the beach but we never met anyone maintaining strict social distancing protocols. Since my husband was working from home too, it was very easy to follow.
I found out how it had really affected Azlaan when my mom came over to meet the children once after a good four months. My baby could crawl by then and my mom hadn’t seen any of it and she was really upset about it.
We hadn’t realized that the only faces that Azlaan had been seeing all this time were the people living in his home and these were literally the only people he thought existed. He first made a pouty face when she came and then just started crying while looking at her. I’m not talking about soft sobs here. I mean loud wails and non-stop crying for hours. This was someone he spoke to on FaceTime every single day. She could make him laugh and smile by talking to him and making faces. But he still never recognized her.
I then realized this will take some time. He will take his time to get used to her because she is new to him. He needed time to accept someone new and this fact was absolutely new for me. New because this was my mother. Someone my elder son loves dearly and waits to pay a visit to.
We started visiting her not very often but once every two weeks which wasn’t enough. He still never accepted it, but he started to mellow down. We realized that we needed to put him on the floor and let him be independent and then he would be a lot better if we didn’t pay attention to him. She baby-proofed the floor and toys and he would go and explore and Zaviar, his brother, would play with him.
He was in this very stage for quite some time, but eventually, got better. He started by only choosing to stick to me when we went out and started laughing when my mom tried to make him laugh. He started to go to her happily three months down the line, right after he turned one.
Also, I think Zaviar made a big difference. If he likes his grandmom and Azlaan observes that, then he internalizes that this is someone we can be comfortable with. It reminds me about how babies like people their moms like and don’t like people their moms dislike and the mom doesn’t even have to say it. They just observe and internalize that behavior. Likewise, he was and is observing Zaviar who is his current favorite person. I am glad we are now at the stage where he chooses to go to his grandma more than me half the time! So we are now past the awkward stage at least for the family he keeps meeting on and off.
That was my story. We were all nearly completely homebound so we weren’t worried about contracting the virus, but I know not everyone had that option. There is always a fear of your children getting the virus and there is always the lingering fear of you contracting the virus and not being able to survive it. What will become of the kids? That is literally every parent’s nightmare. To not know what will happen to the children. Never have we cared about living so much as when we have little ones. So we have to relax, and take baby steps to venture outside and embrace the new normal.
Are you a new mom who gave birth during the pandemic?
I had to ask this. New moms have a lot to take in as it is, and becoming a first-time mother in the era of the pandemic may take quite a toll on a mother’s overall mental well-being, let alone a brand-new sparkling mommy.
First of all, congratulations! Take a breather. Take a deep deep breath and repeat after me: It is going to be okay! Because it is. You have been through the worst; being pregnant in the middle of lockdown, the city closing down, and the news blasting from every nook and corner about the dreaded Coronavirus. Your baby probably knows more about it than you think so don’t you worry, he or she is coming completely prepared.
I want to say this and it is extremely important, so hear me out: If you think you are showing signs of postnatal depression, get help NOW. Don’t wait to see if it gets better. Don’t wait to see if it’s the blues and not depression. Get help immediately. During the lockdown and because of social distancing especially with a newborn baby, chances are you do not have all the help you might have gotten pre-pandemic.
If you need help with the baby, if you need some work to be done, if you need some kind of pain management, if you just need to vent, Ask. For. Help. Ask your husband, your mother, your mother-in-law, your sister, your brother, your best friend, your neighbor, ask whomever you can trust, and also know that he or she is observing strict social distancing. But don’t hesitate to ask. You need to take care of yourself and your own mental wellbeing before you can take care of a newborn.
Remember, it’s okay if you’re breastfeeding and the milk hasn’t come in, it will. It’s okay if the baby is crying, they do. It’s okay if the baby is spitting up. It’s okay if he or she seems hot, babies are generally warmer (fever for infants is only treated if the forehead temperature, taken using a temporal artery thermometer, is above 100.4F). It is okay if he gets a rash. It’s okay if he refuses to have milk for a couple of hours. It’s okay if he wants to sleep for longer than you are used to him sleeping. It’s okay if you let him cry for two minutes to use the bathroom. The baby will be okay if you will be okay. You need to be okay. Babies are resilient little warriors. We need to learn from them.
Also remember, that it is okay if people get offended if you don’t want them to touch or kiss your baby. Your baby, your rules. If someone gets offended, that is perfectly okay. Your baby’s health and life are more important than somebody’s feelings. Please make sure that all your baby’s well-wishers and loved ones have a mask on at all times!
What if your baby gets COVID-19?
“Most newborns who tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 had mild or no symptoms and recovered.”
All you have to do is make sure the baby stays safe and away from people for the designated time period. But the most important thing you have to do is to remain CALM. Your emotions are reflected in your baby. Now, who wants a baby that is anxious and panicking?
What you should do though, is to keep in touch with your baby’s pediatrician and keep him or her in the loop about your baby’s progress so that in case your baby has some difficulty, the pediatrician can ask you to come in right away. Otherwise, you can ask your doctor and continue to breastfeed, and simply continue to take care of your baby like you normally do.
What if you contract the virus?
Surprise. You can still breastfeed. Keep everything sterilized and maybe ask someone else to feed the baby? This is only IF you are feeling up to it. If expressing milk is further draining your energy, don’t do it! The baby will survive as well on formula and you can go back once you feel better.
Whether you want to be with the baby or not 24/7 is a decision you will have to take yourself. But again, you have to relax. Nothing will happen to the baby even if you stay away for ten days. Perhaps you needed this break? If the baby stays with you then remember to always wear a mask and stay six feet away from the baby at all times. Precaution is better than cure.
Adapting to the new normal
I think we have to change our strategy about raising babies in these difficult times. For instance, if you were someone strict about newborn scheduling, I think you’ll have to go lax on this one for a while. We will have to bend some rules, break some, and make some new ones.
I am against screentime for babies, but I still make my one-year-old talk on FaceTime nearly every day for a while to his grandmother because these are people that love him and want to talk to him and he enjoys talking to. Maybe he took some time to make the connection that these are the same people he spoke to on the screen but he did it eventually!
I really hope that this child of mine, who seemed to be an extrovert at first glance gets over the pandemic sooner than later and that we don’t get to see a permanent change in his personality because of it.
Tips for raising babies in the COVID era
- Relax, momma! Take a breather, you are doing so well already!
- Babies are resilient they will be fine, don’t worry too much.
- If they have a fever of more than 100.4F give whatever fever medicine your pediatrician has prescribed to your baby.
- It is a different time and different measures are meant to be taken. It is okay to bend the rules and even break them.
- It is okay to change the schedule or even ditch the schedule, whatever helps you and your family get past this is good.
- Always ask your pediatrician what to do or give your baby in case of fever, in case of severe vomiting, in case of extreme diarrhea, in case his fever spikes up, in case he falls off the bed, in case he doesn’t wake up, in case he doesn’t fall asleep, in case he doesn’t have milk, in case he keeps spitting up, in case he becomes listless, in case he doesn’t stop crying, in case he loses colour, in case he starts shivering randomly, and any other questions that come to your mind as silly as it may sound. The first appointment should be your day of questions.
- If there is an emergency, do not hesitate to take him to the ER.
- Do as the doctor says. Even if the internet, your family, and your friends tell you otherwise, the doctor is the one you should listen to. The doctor and your instinct.
- Ask the pediatrician what vitamins you can give your little one.
- Be regular with his vaccinations, even if you are scared of hospitals being contagious hot spots. Your child is at more risk of other illnesses than COVID-19 if you don’t get him vaccinated.
- Pay attention to your toddler if you have one. He needs your attention way more than the little one who has just entered this world.
- Use the time at home to let your husband bond with the baby if he is working from home.
- Never hesitate to ask for help, whatever it is you may need help with.
- Take him out to the beach, to the park, for a walk. Somewhere where he can see people from a distance and see that there is another world out there and that he has to be a part of it sooner or later.
- Let him interact with friends and family, via video calling. Make the exception to the no screentime rule to let him socialize a little.
- Visit family and friends that don’t go anywhere else so you can make a closed-loop and socialize within that circle.
- Engage the baby in lots of play. If you have an older child as well, encourage him to play with the little one and talk to him.
- Keep talking to the little one. Talk a little extra for everyone that he is missing out on had you not been social distancing.
- Take this opportunity to read to your children and bond with them through stories.
- Keep washing your hands every two to three hours.
- Keep a sanitizer bottle next to you and offer it to everyone who wants to hold the baby after a few weeks if you are ready.
- Ask everyone who comes to visit to wear a mask.
- Don’t allow anybody to smoke in the same room as your baby.
- Don’t make the baby wear a mask or a shield, he is too little and doesn’t need one.
- Most of all, enjoy and make the most of this time, it won’t come back.
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