In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, I have to admit I've not been too badly impacted by things, because I mainly work in isolation going in and out of parent's homes on my own. Global illness aside, breastfeeding support is still in high demand, and the need to feed babies a diet of breastmilk is even more crucial when illness is on the rise. However, my volunteer peer support projects, which run groups have had a hit to attendance and speaking to others who run group support sessions, they've all seen a dramatic decline in attendance. Some groups have taken the decision to temporarily halt group session, while opting for telephone and online support. This has really had me thinking a lot over the last few days about what sort of impact this will have on the well-being of an already fairly isolated and minimally supported population of people. As I said, I am regularly invited into homes to sit with a family and talk with them through their struggles around parenting and breastfeeding. Over the course of a couple of hours we will go through plans for how to positively move forward to get them to a point of reaching their feeding goals. This can have a huge impact to the direction of the feeding journey, but it is only one element determining the success of the parenting journey. What I often tell parents when we make plans is that they would benefit from going out to groups, finding a social network that they can lean on a bit when things are seeming difficult; a group they can message at 2 am for an empathy moan, or go out for a cuppa with to get through what would otherwise be a lonely day without adult conversation. On days when everything feels like an uphill battle and baby is grizzling at everything, just getting out can make all the difference to our sanity. I can offer factual support, informative resources and knowledge for how to move a breastfeeding journey forward towards a desired goal, and I'm always happy to offer emotional support via text on a wobbly day, but there is something very different about the mothering/parenting network built with other parents in a similar place to you. Mothering in today's world can be a very isolating activity at the best of times. Depending on your location, social events and baby groups can be minimal or nonexistent; breastfeeding support can follow in a similar vein. In most cases a mother in a partnership, residing in Britain, has about two weeks of support from her partner before she is left to parent on her own for about eight hours a day; some days in extreme isolation. There is sometimes an option to enroll in a term or two of an activity, like baby massage, swimming, or yoga. This can be the highlight of the week, the thing to look forward to on a weekly basis. Sadly, though, at the moment we are seeing that even these groups are being temporarily halted as a precaution to keep mothers and babies from contracting the coronavirus, but also because the cost of running a group for a potentially empty room can be too much for a self-employed person to maintain. So I come then to my current train of thought where I'm pondering the risks to the well-being of the mother and her postpartum journey when she's being advised to self isolate, or when her resources in the community are being closed. Are we at risk of isolating an already very isolated population of people? We already know that the regular level of isolation felt by mothers can have detrimental effects to their mental and emotional well-being. Processing birth and the new role and intensity of mothering can require us to talk through our thoughts and emotions, something we can't do when we are spending day after day in a quiet house changing nappies and feeding babies. What about the mother that needs their local breastfeeding support group to be able to access face to face help with latching and friendly peer support from other mothers assuring them that they also have/had the same struggles.
I know some professionals that have cut groups are opting for online groups using video calling. Some are offering live streams of their instructional courses, others are offering one to one video calling and telephone support, all of which are wonderful options for parents that are looking for the practical support. My professional opinion, though, is that the current panic around contracting an illness, that as of yet does not seem to have evidence to show it is deadly to the healthy population, panic that is resulting in national outcry to self isolate and take extra precautions to not interact too closely with others, could leave many new mothers struggling to develop crucial parenting networks, and access necessary support to be able to positively develop in their mothering role, not just in the short term, but for the long run, as well. Is there any way around this? Are we being too quick to pull back on these group sessions? By cancelling groups are we re-instilling a feeling of panic? We only have to look at toilet roll shortages and hand-wash shortages to see that somethings are self perpetuating. Is there a way that we can give parents the facts around the illness and immunity and allow them the option to make that informed decision for themselves as to whether they should or shouldn't attend a group before it is withdrawn as an option all together? I'd be interested to know your thoughts on what has been labelled a"pandemic" and whether the risk to you of attending a group is greater than the benefit or whether the benefit would feel more than the risk?