Challenges, silver linings in raising newborns amid Covid-19 pandemic

Mr Bryan Tan and his wife Adriana Lim Escano with their children (from left): Samuel, three months old; Deborah, five; Joshua, seven; and Michael, 11. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - The birth of a child is usually a time for celebration, but the Covid-19 pandemic has presented parents of newborns with a new set of challenges.

A lack of social support, isolation at home and worries about hygiene are among the key concerns, said parents and experts.

When Mr Bryan Tan's fourth child was born in March, he was hit by the contrast with when his first three children - now aged 11, seven and five - were born. Then his family and friends would visit often and play with his children.

Mr Tan, 45, chief executive of the Centre for Fathering and the Dads for Life movement, said: "It was harder for the rest of our family and friends to celebrate the arrival of our newborn. We missed that community involvement."

With travel restrictions in place, parents are also concerned that their children have limited bonding opportunities with overseas family and friends.

Clinical psychologist Haanusia Prithivi Raj, 36, whose youngest child is three months old, said: "I worry that my aged grandmothers who live overseas might not have a chance to meet my newborn any time soon."

Isolation during the pandemic can also make stay-at-home parents feel more alone and stressed.

Ms Belle Gan, 32, who gave birth to her second child last July, said the lack of social interaction has taken a toll on her mental well-being, especially because she is left at home with a newborn child.

"It's rather tiring and lonely," said the stay-at-home mother, who has to breastfeed her daughter every two hours.

Associate Professor Helen Chen Yu, a senior consultant and head of the department of psychological medicine at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, said that when mothers are restricted to staying at home for safety, it can feel like their confinement is a never-ending one.

The pandemic has also heightened parents' concerns about hygiene and safety.

Events manager Derrick Sim, 31, and his wife Ruby Liang, 34, had their youngest child last June. They worried about exposing their newborn daughter to people, in case she contracted Covid-19.

The couple, who also have two boys aged four and seven, avoid taking the family to places visited by those with Covid-19.

Mr Derrick Sim and Ms Ruby Liang with their three children - Ellie, 11 months old; Christian, four; and Noah, seven. The couple avoid taking the family to places visited by those infected with Covid-19. PHOTO: COURTESY OF RUBY LIANG

Parents also find themselves more hygiene-conscious after returning home.

"I'm more mindful about sanitising myself before I get close to my newborn," said Mr Tan.

Prof Chen said mothers have expressed worries about becoming infected and what that would mean for their babies. Some have even resorted to wearing masks and gloves at home while caring for their babies, she added.

But parents should also strike a balance between keeping the environment safe and not being too obsessed with cleanliness, which might take the fun out of experiencing the world for their little ones, said Prof Chen.

Amid the challenges, there have also been silver linings that come with raising a newborn child during the pandemic.

Work-from-home arrangements have given both parents opportunities to get more involved in raising their children together.

Ms Gan said her husband now has more time to take their four-year-old son out to play while she takes care of their infant daughter. "Before the pandemic, it was practically just me taking care of my son. And my husband would go to work and come back at night," she said.

Separately, Mr Sim said: "With this work-from-home arrangement, I am able to spend more time at home and be more involved in my daughter's growing-up years."

Parents have had to be more proactive in taking care of their own well-being as well.

Ms Gan said that when she found herself staying at home more often, she spent more time on macrame - a type of craft that involves using knots to create textiles - as it helped her to stay calm.

Remaining grateful during these challenging times has helped parents to manage their concerns.

Ms Raj said: "I am just glad that the pandemic happened in an era when we have good healthcare and we can still stay in touch with our loved ones despite the distance. That brings me solace and helps me stay hopeful about the future."

Parents, be mindful of self-care too

Experts offer some tips for parents of newborns to ensure they take care of themselves while caring for the baby.

1. Devote time to self-care

Something as simple as a short walk outdoors or a soothing shower can lift the spirits, said Associate Professor Helen Chen Yu, a senior consultant and head of the department of psychological medicine at KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

2. Manage your own expectations

Ms Haanusia Prithivi Raj, a senior clinical psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health's department of developmental psychiatry, said it is normal for parents to feel overwhelmed with caregiving. So, sometimes it is okay to leave the house messy and the laundry undone, she added.

Mr Bryan Tan, a father of four and chief executive of the Centre for Fathering and the Dads for Life movement, said: "It's important to be gentle on ourselves, and not feel guilty or ashamed when we let the TV become the nanny."

3. Stay connected to family and friends

Ms Raj said: "A short video call to a loved one makes a big difference to your day."

4. Seek support from loved ones

Don't be shy to ask family and friends for help, said Ms Raj. If possible, ask family members and friends to babysit or help run errands so that you can get a break, she added.

5. Good communication

Ms Raj said good communication can help new mums feel that they are getting more support and are being cared for, and that contributes to developing healthy relationships in the family.

Ms Belle Gan, a mother of two, said more time together with her husband during the pandemic has helped them communicate better and align their parenting styles.

6. Divide household responsibilities

It is vital to ensure that household chores are divided so that no one feels burned out, said Ms Raj.

Prof Chen said fathers need to be encouraged to be supportive and participate more in taking care of the baby.

7. Recognise symptoms of depression

A quick and easy self-check is for a person to ask himself if he has been feeling low and has lost interest or pleasure in the usual activities for much of the last two weeks, said Prof Chen.

Ms Raj said: "Do not be afraid to seek help. These mental health issues are more common than we think."

Correction note: An earlier version of this story gave Associate Professor Helen Chen Yu's title as Assistant Professor. It has since been corrected. We are sorry for the error.

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