Home-Start UK have joined Best Beginnings and the Parent-Infant Foundation to reveal key findings from an online survey of over 5,000 parents that highlight the chronic under resourcing of services for families, the inequalities in babies’ early experiences and its worsening forecast due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The three charities - who all work to improve outcomes for parents and children with a focus on the early years - warn that many families with lower incomes, young parents and those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, will have been hit hardest by the pandemic. 

Download the report here.

The results highlight a range of issues facing parents surveyed, revealing the devastating impact on babies as well as their parents, from increased mental health concerns and difficult birthing experiences, to dads and other co-parents being excluded from the pregnancy journey and digital health appointments reported as leaving some women feeling exposed and humiliated. The ramifications of the lockdown have been detrimental, and could cast a long shadow going forward for parents and babies alike.

Visit www.babiesinlockdown.info 

Evidence shows that the first 1,001 days of a child’s life, from pregnancy to age two lay the foundations for a happy and healthy life. The support and wellbeing of babies during this time is strongly linked to better outcomes later in life, including educational achievement, progress at work, physical and mental health. Around 2,000 babies are born in the UK every day which means that over 200,000 babies were born between 23rd March and 4th July - the most intense period of lockdown.  

According to the survey results, almost 7 in 10 parents (68%) felt the changes brought about by COVID-19 were affecting their unborn baby, baby or young child - reporting an increase in babies crying, having tantrums and becoming more clingy during this time. The survey results indicated that a change in baby behaviour was twice as likely to be reported amongst those on the lowest incomes, with under 25s particularly affected, with over half (59%) noticing their babies becoming more clingy during lockdown.

Furthermore, almost 7 in 10 (68%) parents surveyed said their ability to cope with their pregnancy or baby has been impacted by COVID-19, with nearly 9 in 10 (87%) parents saying they were more anxious as a result. The number of parents reporting increased anxiety correlated with those who had a lower household income. Yet only one third (32%) of respondents expressed confidence in being able to access mental health support if required.

The pandemic is not affecting all communities equally. Recent research published in the British Medical Journal in late May found that pregnant Black women were eight times more likely to be admitted to hospital with coronavirus than pregnant White women, with pregnant Asian women four times more likely.

The charity’s survey also highlighted inequalities between respondents of different ethnicities. Their findings revealed that different communities were not enabled to access services and support equally, with Black and Black British respondents being less likely to visit their GP, use websites or online forums/support groups.

“Lockdown has been so stressful, especially early on when we couldn’t even go out for fresh air. My daughter picked up on how I was feeling - she became very clingy in a way she’d never been before, I couldn’t even shower properly because she got so upset. Before lockdown she was fine - now I feel she could sense what was going on and it even made her feel depressed,” stated Fim, 35, and lives in London with her two year old.

Following a decade of under-investment from central Government, services for babies, children and their families were already struggling to deliver the care and support that families need. The charities state that without decisive action, the post-COVID-19 lottery will worsen existing inequalities. While the majority of families in the UK prepare to transition back to normal life, “normal” for some babies and families was already disproportionately harder than it was for others and many now face a knock-on economic effect from the lockdown, further threatening their quality of life and life chances.

The three organisations have come together to share their findings, following the recent report by the Children’s Commissioner, and the Government’s vow to undertake a new review into Early Years Health (led by Andrea Leadsom MP). And to urge the Government to act now to avoid a “post-COVID-19 lottery” of British babies who do not get the support they need for a strong start in life. The three fiscal measures being asked for involve significant and ring-fenced funding to support the first 1,001 days, including:

  • A one-off Baby Boost to enable local services to support families who have had a baby during or close to lockdown. 
  • A new Parent-Infant Premium providing new funding for local commissioners, targeted at improving outcomes for the most vulnerable children.
  • Significant and sustained investment in core funding to support families from conception to age two and above, including statutory services, charities and community groups.

Peter Grigg, Chief Executive at Home-Start, states: "This report exposes how unequal the experiences of parents and babies to COVID-19 have been. There is an urgent need to build back better for all communities. These proposals for a Baby Boost and Parent Infant Premium represent clear, simple interventions that can be made now to help make sure we avoid a post-COVID lottery in the future. We want to improve the wellbeing of all babies to ensure a happier and successful next generation.” 

Alison Baum OBE, CEO and Founder of Best Beginnings, comments: "The report demonstrates firsthand the serious challenges faced by parents across the country at such an important time in their lives and in the lives of their babies.Without the support from loved ones and sufficient pre and postnatal care, many parents felt isolated and anxious. We must ensure that parents of all backgrounds receive the support they need, so they can look after themselves and have the knowledge, confidence and support to be able to give their children the best start in life.”

Beckie Lang, Chief Executive at Parent-Infant Foundation, continues: ”Around 200,000 babies were born during the height of the lockdown, with many more just before and since. It is time for national leadership and a rescue, recovery and repair plan for the nation’s youngest children if we are to create a  better, more equitable society in which more children can thrive. The opportunity to act is now.”  

Download the report here.