The NSPCC has raised concerns for new parents of babies born during the pandemic, saying their mental health problems may have been missed.
The children’s charity warns that there could be a long-lasting impact on babies born during the COVID-19 pandemic with parents experiencing increased stress, social isolation and mental health problems.
One adult who called the charity’s helpline said: “A friend of mine has been struggling with depression ever since she gave birth to her son, who is now two years-old. I didn’t think anything of it at first, I assumed her depression was just a phase, but then I realised just how much it was impacting her life. “Some days she’s barely able to function, like she can barely get out of bed. What concerns me most is her little one is often left to fend for himself – her ex is long out of the picture and she doesn’t get any kind of support.”
Between April 2020 and January 2021, the NSPCC’S helpline received 3,608 contacts from adults about parental mental health. The monthly average has increased by 44% compared with last year.
Even prior to the pandemic, a decline in health visitors and reductions in public health spending on early years meant many families were not getting the help they need.
However, without the right support at the right time, mental health problems during pregnancy and the first year of the baby’s life can have serious consequences for both children and families.
Many partners and fathers will have been excluded from scans due to social distancing measures and many women will have given birth without any support.
Social distancing has also meant that parents and babies have not had the physical support from their family and friends over the last year and up to 50% of health visitors were redeployed away from supporting families in some areas during the first lockdown.
“This has had an unprecedented impact on pregnancy, child birth and the start of a child’s life,” the charity states.
A survey undertaken during the pandemic by Parent-Infant Foundation, Best Beginnings and Home Start found:
- Six in 10 new parents shared significant concerns about their mental health because of the additional stress caused by COVID
- A third of parents reported that interaction with their child had changed
- Just over one in 10 parents of children under the age of two years old saw a health visitor face-to-face.
Restricted access to these crucial services could result in mental health problems in pregnancy and the first year going under the radar of professionals, making it harder for parents to provide the care a baby needs to develop.
The NSPCC are urging the government to prioritise parents and babies in the nation’s recovery. As the government plans for new national leadership of public health in England, it must use this opportunity to set out a new and ambitious plan to give every child the best start in life.
This means investing in local services that support parents during pregnancy and in the first year of a child’s life and rebuilding the health visiting workforce to have the capacity to deliver five consistent face to face visits.
The charity concludes that if the government is to keep its promise to ‘level up’ opportunities across the country, investment should be focused in local areas where the need is greatest.
Vicky Nevin, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer at the NSPCC said: “Access to support for families and babies has long been inconsistent, but the pandemic has now thrown up even bigger challenges for parents. Now is the time for urgent action to ensure that health visitors are able to build up those vital relationships with parents and to refer families to quality services in the local area.”