My baby boy is two weeks old. I am in lockdown with him, a 5-year-old and my husband; it could be the stuff of nightmares.
And yet, I am finding it quite the opposite. In the words of my midwife, my baby is “thriving” and it seems he is not the only one.
Having a new baby is easier during lockdown
Lockdown has slowed me down and eased me into the 4th trimester this time around. It has enabled me to successfully breastfeed my second son, something I struggled to do with my first. I remember being inundated with well-meaning and excited visitors descending on us during those first few precious weeks, five years ago. I found myself putting aside the need to relax into motherhood, to be allowed to simply feel tired and hormonal. Instead I put my makeup on and got on with it. However many people say “Don’t get up, I’ll make the tea…,” they don’t know where you keep your tea bags and cups. It is, inevitably, extra work.
I went on to suffer postnatal depression, largely due to feeling like a failure in the breastfeeding stakes and growing tired of pretending I was OK.
Postpartum focus on key tasks
Under lockdown, I have been able to sit on the sofa in my PJs and lob my boobs out whenever prompted, which is every five minutes. This is something I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing in front of visitors. It has resulted in a more positive experience, reinforced by the fact that my baby didn’t lose any of his birth weight in the first five days, something the midwife told me is extremely rare in breastfed babies. Normally newborns are expected to lose seven to 10 per cent of their birth weight in the first week.
A further weigh-in of my guzzling boy showed he had put on 13 ounces in eight days. Again, in non-lockdown conditions it is expected that a new baby would put on one ounce a day in the first month. My son is not the only newborn benefitting from lockdown. Midwives say they are seeing a rise across the board in babies being breastfed and retaining their birth weights and they put this down to the fact we must stay at home. As an advocate of a “fed baby is a happy baby”, I hope and expect that this is also the case for bottle-feeding mums, too.
While this is new to me, the post-partum resting at home of mothers and babies is hardly novel. In China and much of East Asia, women continue to zuo yuezi “sit the month”. New mothers are told not to take a bath or shower and to keep warm for a month, so no opening windows but instead curl up under the covers while other people (traditionally family members, increasingly in a geographically spread society, maternity hotel workers) offer mothers and babies an extension of the care they would receive in hospital.
Lockdown is different, of course, from the traditional month-long confinement in China. It has removed choice. And I don’t have a mother or mother-in-law fussing over me. But I also cannot offend people by telling them “It’s not a good time” to call in. While this is sad for grandparents who haven’t met the baby yet, it has allowed me time to relax and bond with him at my own pace.
As a family we leave the house only for our one walk a day, traipsing around local fields for an hour, barely seeing a soul. With my first baby, I was never at home. I had loyalty cards at every coffee shop within a five-mile radius and I was perpetually on my free coffee at most of them. I felt the weight of expectation that birth is something women have been doing for centuries, therefore we should bounce back and get perfectly mothering as soon as we leave the labour ward. In lockdown, I feel protected from judgement.
Lockdown has given my husband time to bond with our newborn without interruption. He will return to work later this week but it will be at our kitchen table.The anxiety I had last time when he went back to 12 hour shifts after two weeks isn’t there. I know that if I desperately need him, he is two metres away rather than an hour and half’s commute away.
I’d be lying if I said it was all perfect. It is not. My five-year-old is struggling without school, home learning is chaotic, and there are times we could all do with a bit of space. And life is undoubtedly simpler the second time around.
Changing our expectations of new families
But I can’t help thinking that there are lessons here that we could carry forward. A month’s confinement and the reduction of multi-tasking (even as I write this) have helped me focus on my key objectives of health and growth in the early days of my new son’s life. Working from home has allowed my husband far more access to our new child, allowing us to grow as a family in ways that benefit all four of us. The positives of lockdown are outweighing the negatives for us all. Would I self impose lockdown if I were to have another baby? Yes, definitely.