Babies in Lockdown: Report shines a light on baby inequalities as charities call on Government to act now to avoid a “Post-COVID19 lottery”

  • Online survey of 5,474 expectant mothers, new parents and parents of toddlers, undertaken during the pandemic, reveals almost 7 in 10 found their ability to cope with their pregnancy or baby had been impacted as a result of COVID-19
  • Only one third expressed confidence in being able to access mental health support if required
  • Nearly 7 in 10 felt the changes brought about by COVID-19 were affecting their unborn baby, baby or young child (with an increase in crying, tantrums and becoming more clingy). This was felt most sharply amongst parents under 25 years old and those on the lowest incomes
  • Best Beginnings, Home-Start UK and Parent-Infant Foundation urge the Government to provide a ‘Baby Boost’ (£55m) to enable local services to better support families who have had a baby during the lockdown and to introduce a new ‘Parent-Infant Premium’ (£1,000 per baby in disadvantaged families) for local commissioners working to tackle early inequalities
  • Without decisive action, they warn, the ‘post-COVID-19 lottery’ will worsen pre existing inequalities in the UK

Charity collective Best Beginnings, Home-Start UK and the Parent-Infant Foundation 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.

Home-Start UK has come together with Best Beginnings and the Parent-Infant Foundation to show the impact of COVID-19 on families across the country.

The results of the online survey 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.

Home-Start Aberdeen is part of the Home-Start UK national network of almost 200 local family support charities and confirm it is a picture that has been reflected in Aberdeen.

Speaking to one mum supported by local Home-Start Aberdeen, Heather from the Cornhill area of Aberdeen she expressed the impact of Covid-19 had been “awful”.

Heather, mum of Emily (2) and Karley (10) gave birth to Patrick on 27th March 2020, the week the country entered complete lockdown.

“I was induced and my partner couldn’t come to the hospital as he had been isolating for two weeks before that. To be honest the hospital was absolutely fine, it was coming home that was scary,” said Heather.

“Shopping for food was a real issue. Neither I nor my partner drive and we couldn’t get out as a family to shop or do anything. My partner works full time in the Co-op, so we were ok for essentials but providing proper meals for the family was hard. It was difficult for me to leave Patrick and the kids to get to a shop and those first few weeks were really challenging, they still are. My 2-year-old, Emily, has loads of energy and the impact on her routine and behavior has been tough.

“We’ve had to get the kids to various hospital appointments and obviously with appointment restrictions I couldn’t take all the kids with me so would have to try and choose the most appropriate person to babysit and help me with minimal risk of contracting the virus. I usually rely on public transport, but services were reduced, and I was anxious about using it, so we took taxis to appointments which has been expensive. Our living costs have increased with using more gas and electric with all of us being at home, as well as our food bills being higher. It’s been a real stretch relying on one income.”

Patrick has a number of health issues. He was diagnosed with Plagiocephaly, Torticollis and Talipes. According to statistics 1 in 5 babies get diagnosed with flat head syndrome and are at higher risk of developmental issues such as motor control, flattened head and midengined ears. Patrick was due to be undergoing physio through NHS but when lockdown restrictions tightened his treatment got postponed.

Therapy for Patrick’s torticollis involves exercises of the neck to promote muscle movement and reposition the neck and without the right treatment it could be prolonged.

“I have challenges with anxiety already and if hadn’t been for the support I’ve received my Home-Start Aberdeen volunteer, Gillian, since having Patrick I would have broken down by now. She’s been a great support,” continued Heather.

Home-Start Aberdeen adapted its support service during the pandemic to ensure it can continue to support families appropriately through video chat and emails as well phone calls and text messages. This support is usually provided via a home-visiting service from carefully selected and trained volunteers who are there for families in need of help.

The charity has supported over 80 families during the pandemic including families of 6 new babies born during lockdown, as well as 62 children under the age of 3.

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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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.”

The full report is available at: