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How to Parent a Newborn During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Jane Chertoff 

New parents are facing additional challenges during the coronavirus pandemic while trying to care for their newborns. Here's the advice experts give to keep your baby safe and healthy.

Learning the ropes as a new parent can feel overwhelming even at the best of times. But if you've had a new addition join your family in the last few months, trying to keep your baby safe and healthy in the midst of a global health pandemic can make your day-to-day seem even more daunting.

From seeing your pediatrician over a screen instead of in person, to securing the formula and wipes you need while everyone else is hoarding supplies, COVID-19 has created a challenging new reality that new parents must face.

"The postpartum period is usually filled with joy for most new parents, but in the current scenario, most of us are faced with a new way of life, and there can be an increase in levels of anxiety and depression," says Navya Singh, Psy.D., a psychologist and founder and chief clinical officer of wayForward, a digital platform for behavioral and mental health solutions.

The good news is that even though you may feel more isolated than ever, you aren't alone. Experts weigh in on how new parents can navigate through the next few months.

Keep Your Well-Baby Visits

Your pediatrician can advise on whether you should still be bringing your baby into their office for their scheduled well visits. Given the current climate, some doctors are completely switching over to virtual visits over Skype, Zoom, or another platform, even for young babies, says Matt Dougherty, M.D., a pediatrician in St. Louis. (Telehealth was included on the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)'s guidelines for adjustments pediatricians can take during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

"While it does not allow for the ability to get the exam that we would wish, we still have the tools to see if the baby has the correct muscle tone, visually appears to be gaining weight as we would expect, and is not having any distress, such as problems breathing," says Dr. Dougherty.

A video visit is more ideal than a phone call, says Dr. Dougherty, because it allows the doctor to see the interaction between the parents and the baby, ask questions, and even assess any roadblocks with breastfeeding, if needed.

But your pediatrician can schedule a more thorough in-office follow-up if they notice anything concerning over video, such as a respiratory problem, says Dr. Dougherty. Otherwise, they can continue to monitor problems, such as diaper rash, feeding and/or forceful spitting up, through subsequent video check-ins.

How to Handle Vaccine Appointments

Even if your well visits have moved online, you'll likely still need to bring your baby into your doctor's office to get their vaccines. Delaying them usually isn't advised because the timing is critical to protect them against diseases like meningitis and whooping cough, explains Dr. Dougherty.

Still, given the current level of risk (especially for a baby born prematurely or with another health condition), he adds, some vaccine appointments may need to be delayed. You and your pediatrician can discuss and make the safest timeline for your little one.

Stay Safe When Stepping Outside

Now is the time to lean into staying home and safe while enjoying extra snuggle time. When you need to go out, enjoy solo walks in the fresh air with your baby while making sure to keep a six-foot distance from others. These are great for your mental health as well. Dr. Dougherty says the risk to your baby is low because they will be in their stroller and not touching any surfaces. However, he says it's best to avoid bringing your baby into the grocery store and pharmacy since it may be harder to maintain distance from others.

If you are starved for parent-to-parent interaction, look to see if any local parent groups in your area have moved to online meetings. There are also Facebook groups parents can join where active forums and chats can offer support, like the Fussy Baby Support Group with more than 34,000 members. You can also ask your health care provider if they are offering any online support groups for people who recently gave birth.

Get the Supplies You Need

New parents across the country may also be dealing with shortages of critical supplies they need like diapers, wipes, and formula. This is especially affecting families who rely on special varieties of allergen-friendly formula and families who can't afford to stock up on many products at once.

If you can't find what you need in the store or online, try reaching out to the supplier or manufacturer directly. They may have more in stock and could send it directly to you. If you're in a pinch, you can also ask your pediatrician's office if they have extra samples or if there's an alternative brand that will work for your baby for the time being.

While there's no need to hoard hundreds of packages of baby wipes (and make it harder for other parents to find some!) you might want to get a few weeks' worth of stock for what you need at a time. That way, you can reduce your time going to the store and your risk of exposure. And if you don't have anyone else to stay with the baby when you do a grocery run or head to the pharmacy, it might be best to stick to ordering what you need online instead.

Always Ask for Help When Needed

Getting help for child care isn't likely right now. That's why careful planning is more important than ever to make sure you have what you need to get through the day, says Dr. Singh.

If you have a partner, make an effort to split responsibilities. "Partners sharing responsibility would be critical at this time so that one parent does not get overwhelmed," she says. "Make a list of things each one will do, and times of the day when one person can get a break, including shifts overnight."

And it's important to focus on your mental health, too. If you do start to feel overwhelmed or think you might be experiencing postpartum depression, reach out for professional help. Virtual therapists are offering online sessions so new parents can still get the support they need. (Dr. Singh points out some HIPAA restrictions have been relaxed in light of COVID-19, allowing more therapists to provide online sessions.) These sessions may also be covered by your insurance, but always check with your provider first. You can also find support groups online through PostpartumDepression.org and through the Motherhood Center of New York.