Taking care of a newborn baby can be stressful at baseline, but add in the COVID-19 pandemic to the mix and a whole new level of anxiety is at hand.
The moms I meet in virtual prenatal visits for my pediatrics clinic have a lot of questions these days about what to expect when they come to the doctor's office with their newborns, how to access support services like lactation specialists, and how strict they need to be with quarantining themselves with a newborn.
Here's what I tell new parents about caring for a newborn during the pandemic:
Heading to the doctor's office with a newborn
Pediatricians' offices nationwide are taking pretty extraordinary measures to make sure that when a new mama enters the office doors, she feels safe. Many pediatrics groups with multiple sites have implemented a "well clinic and sick clinic" model, where those coming for scheduled routine pediatrician appointments are seen in one location, and those who are worried about respiratory symptoms, like cough and congestion, are directed to another. Those with solo or small practices are also being especially careful with their patients to assure the safest clinic environments possible.
Even if you are well, expect some pretty heavy-duty screening protocols before you enter the doors. At my office, we call families before each visit to question them about any potential COVID-19 symptoms or exposure risk factors. Many offices check patient and parent temperatures prior to admittance, ask that all who attend the visit (2-year-olds and up) wear a mask in common areas, and request that guests refrain from sitting in the lobby.
Physicians and staff members are also paying particular attention to high-touch areas, wiping surfaces down thoroughly between patients. Call your child's pediatrician if you have questions about specific protocols they have in place.
Getting lactation support during the pandemic
By now it may even seem strange to have actual, in-person interactions—we're all so used to connecting online—but sometimes, there's nothing like the real thing. Though telehealth visits can be beneficial when it comes to newborn breastfeeding support , often mamas really do need hands-on help from a certified lactation consultant to get things off to a good start.
If your pediatrician recommends you come in for this type of visit because she's worried your baby is losing too much weight immediately after birth or isn't gaining enough weight after a few days of life, don't shy away from the opportunity to get invaluable guidance in-office.
Social distancing guidelines for parents with newborns
Pediatricians have always considered babies especially vulnerable to infections in the first month of life. We recommend impeccable hand hygiene around these fragile little beings and worry about exposing them to others who are sick. If an infant develops a fever (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the first month of life, we consider it an emergency requiring immediate medical attention. During the coronavirus pandemic, our safety guidelines to avoid illness still apply—wash your hands, stay away from sick people, and vaccinate according to CDC guidelines.
In most areas, COVID-19 social distancing recommendations are keeping new families even more isolated from the outside world than usual. New families really should keep their distance from others, because fewer social interactions in general lessen the spread of disease. Also, the much-loved grandparents who would typically come to visit your baby are considered more vulnerable to COVID-19.
While it's hard to be without extra in-home assistance from friends and relatives during the newborn period , you can still get support in creative ways. Instead of a meal train, request gift cards toward no-contact food delivery so you don't have to cook. Ask others in your village to contribute toward a virtual doula fund so you can still get expert help from baby care professionals while maintaining a safe distance from others. Lean on your pediatrician's team of nurses and support staff for evidence-based advice.
Managing postpartum health during the pandemic
Without in-person support from friends and family, I'm recommending new moms be extra intentional in a few key self-care areas:
1. Make social connections virtually. Jump on a video chat with your sister, join an online "baby hour," join in on some Zoom friend dates. If you divide and conquer along soothing and feeding lines, you'll have the time you need to rest, recoup and reconnect with your social circle. Which leads me to...
2. Give your partner a dedicated caregiving role . If you're breastfeeding, you're the "Feeder in Chief" in your family. You have a full-time job, and you need breaks. Designate your partner to be the "Soother in Chief," in charge of calming your baby and getting your infant to sleep.
3. Get fresh air every day. Sit on a chair on the porch for a few minutes by yourself. Once your obstetrician clears you, take some short walks with the stroller when weather permits. Take your baby with you on some jaunts around the neighborhood, but try to head out solo from time to time, too, so you have moments to take care of yourself as you learn to take care of a little one. Even five-minute breaks from your environment can help you feel less trapped and more sane.
4. Keep your mind active. It's tempting to spend hours and hours watching Netflix when you're a new mom, but you'll be happier and healthier in the long run if you use some of your time in quarantine on intellectually stimulating activities. Start listening to that new podcast series you just couldn't squeeze into your busy life pre-baby. Journal. Read a good book. Decide now is the moment you'll finally learn about the history of Venice's canals, or try some crossword puzzles or calligraphy. Choosing to engage your mind in times when the minutes and days all seem to run together is an integral part of staving off boredom and is also good for your mental health.
It can be challenging to feel confident about how to keep your family safe when you have a newborn. The coronavirus pandemic adds an extra layer of anxiety for many new moms and dads. Still, many of the current social distancing precautions fall in line with what pediatricians recommend for new babies, even under normal circumstances.
Practice social distancing, rely on your pediatrician's office for guidance and support, get creative about connecting with loved ones and, above all, intentionally take good care of yourself so you can take good care of your little one.
A version of this post was originally published on May 25, 2020. It has been updated.