Giving a voice to new parents during the pandemic

Universities of Warwick and Sheffield researchers and the National Childbirth Trust are looking for first-time parents to share their experience of becoming a parent during the pandemic

New parents experienced reduced healthcare provision, a lack of social support and fewer opportunities to meet other parents during the pandemic

Study responses so far suggest that new parents felt isolated and relied on online sources for parenting and infant health advice

A new UK-wide study is looking to give a voice to people who became parents for the first time during the pandemic, in order to learn how they can be best supported.

The University of Warwick, the University of Sheffield, and National Childbirth Trust (NCT) are looking to share the stories of new parents who were affected by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, in order to provide better support and improve parental well-being.

The three lead researchers on the project, Dr Michelle McGillion from the University of Warwick, Dr Emma Blakey and Dr Fiona Scott from the University of Sheffield, all became parents for the first time during the pandemic. They witnessed first hand the reduced healthcare provision, lack of social support and fewer opportunities to meet other parents. From their own experiences, they identified a need to document new parenthood during this unprecedented time and advocate more support.

The researchers are inviting new parents of infants (biological, adoptive and foster) to share anonymous accounts of their experiences in the period before the arrival of their child, birth or arrival of their child and the period after their child arrived.

Dr Michelle McGillion, Assistant Professor in Developmental Psychology at the University of Warwick, said: -Becoming a parent during the pandemic meant that family and friends didn-t meet my baby until he was 6 months old. They missed his tiny babyhood and I missed them. It-s clear from our initial responses that loneliness had a detrimental impact on new parents during the pandemic. We hope that by giving new parents a voice and amplifying their experiences, we can help other new parents to feel less alone.

-Many people have worried about the impact of the pandemic on babies, however we think there should be a focus on supporting parents so they can be in the best position to support their babies.-

Dr Emma Blakey, Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology at the University of Sheffield, said: -When we decided to launch this project, we all felt from our own experiences that there was so much to say, but not enough out there support-wise during the pandemic, so one of our main aims was to create a safe space for new parents to share their experiences and read others- accounts.

-This has been an incredibly hard time to become a new parent. New parenthood in ordinary times can be a vulnerable time, but add in the isolation, feelings of fear and uncertainty, and lack of access to support services and we can see how this would have a big impact on parents- wellbeing.

-I remember the first playgroup I was able to go to when my baby was a year old and appreciating the chance to speak to other new parents about their experiences. There was such an outpouring of emotion, and sharing of personal stories and I realised that many parents had not been able to share and process their experiences. From this, I felt a strong need to document these experiences and identify how parents can be best supported now.-

Dr Fiona Scott, Lecturer in Digital Literacies at the University of Sheffield, said: -During the pandemic, many parent classes and health visits were suspended, which seems to have led to mixed messages and parents feeling quite isolated. We want to understand the impact this has had and use this to advocate for the right support for new parents.

-The responses we have had so far suggest that a lot of parents felt that they responded to this reduced support with increased reliance on online sources of information, turning to search engines and social media posts to find information on infant health and parenting advice.

-There’s a sense that parents felt overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of information they found, much of which was contradictory, highlighting an ongoing need to support new parents by providing them with reliable sources of information and empowering them to find and critically evaluate information online.

-So far, the project has already highlighted mixed feelings surrounding how to balance Covid risks with allowing family and friends to bond with their new babies or using technology like Facetime as a substitute.-