The past six months have been nothing short of extraordinary, and as a community we have endured restrictions and isolation that have been challenging on so many levels. For those of us in Melbourne, the easing of the lockdown is only now starting. Spring is in the air, and so is the joy and relief of finally being able to get together with some friends and family and travel a little further afield. However, easing back in the world can bring with it some surprising, and perhaps unexpected, challenges for many people. Just as it took time to find ways to manage the stresses of lockdown, it can take time to find our way back.
Many of the parents I see are surprised by the anxiety and nervousness they feel at the prospect of venturing out into the world. For parents of young babies – many of whom have only known parenting within the four walls of home – it can feel particularly daunting. Home has been a cocoon of safety and leaving this sanctuary can invite lots of worry. Some of the worries I’m hearing are concern about how safe the community is, how to make conversation with people again, the reactions of their children to seeing lots of masked people, how to juggle the pram, nappy changes, and feeding away from the familiarity of home, worry about being judged for your parenting. It’s completely normal to feel self-conscious, nervous and uncomfortable as you learn to be out in the world again, this time with a baby in tow.
Here are some tips to help you navigate life after lockdown:
Take things at your own pace. Be gentle with yourself and remember that it takes time to adapt to each ‘new normal’, so ease yourself back. Work out what feels most comfortable and start from there. But it’s also important to gently challenge yourself to try something different every few days or every week. For example, start with short park meet-ups initially and add in more as your confidence grows. Schedule outings so they don’t overlap with feeds or naps if you are nervous about feeding in public, or anxious about trying to settle your baby around others. With time and practice you’ll get the hang of all of it all, but it can be overwhelming at first. Try and find a balance between what feels comfortable, and what feels daunting but is actually good for you. The ‘daunting but good for you’ activities are those that give you social connection, exercise, a break from your baby, and a change of scenery, and it’s worth gently pushing through your discomfort to get there.
Clearly communicate your boundaries. Throughout lockdown there’s been little need to establish boundaries with family and friends about your baby. Being around more people now means having to think about a range of new issues – like how to socialise and be appropriately socially distant, who gets to cuddle your baby, how to remind people to sanitise their hands, how to parent your way amidst a ton of advice from well-meaning others. Having these conversations can certainly feel daunting, and perhaps not everyone will agree with you (remember, you don’t need them to agree with you, just to abide by your wishes). If it helps, defer to the experts and cite the advice from your OB, paediatrician, GP or maternal health nurse. Ultimately boundaries help reduce your stress, they place you firmly in charge, and they help everyone understand what you need from them. Setting healthy boundaries helps you take care of you and your baby.
Create daily routines. The value of routines (apart from helping us get things done) is they help create a sense of safety and predictability – both of which are very welcome right now as our world is opening up. A daily routine can help motivate you to practice those things that feel uncomfortable. For example, a morning walk to your favourite café for coffee, then strolling through a local park may give you the confidence to tackle the busy supermarket. Try and vary the routine every few days to give you practice encountering different people and situations.
Places to find support
If you don’t like the way you are feeling, please reach out for support.
GP & Psychologist – See your GP for a referral to see a psychologist. Telehealth options are currently available for both GP and psychology appointments.
PANDA - Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia. National Helpline 1300 726 306
Their website has a wealth of information and resources for expecting and new parents.
24 hour Maternal & Child Health Line 13 22 29
Dr Karola Belton is the Mama You've Got This Psychologist Expert and presents at the Infant Essentials Masterclass.