A new mother who gave birth just months before the pandemic has told MPs that a lack of support over the past 12 months has been a “continuous heartache”.
Bethany Power, whose son was born in late November 2019, told the Petitions Committee that she had had difficulties accessing not only services for her baby’s physical health but also for her own post-natal rehabilitation.
She was among a number of people to give evidence to the committee on Wednesday on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on new parents.
Ms Power said her son’s first year physical exam had to be done virtually, which she found “unhelpful” because he was dealing with severe reflux, colic and also exhibited symptoms of asthma.
She said: “I was only getting support through actually having to attend the hospital because he was having severe symptoms of the matter.”
She told the MPs that her mental and physical health had worsened due to the lack of support she had received for physical post-labour complications, labour-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and postnatal depression.
She also raised conerns about baby classes being inaccessible for new parents unless they are paid for.
She said: “With baby classes I wanted to join, I mainly I had to pay for them. And then, due to restrictions, many would then go into virtual classes so this would take away the building and bonding with other mothers.
“The only support you can get is through paying financially and it’s very difficult when you’re on maternity on a low income.”
Ms Power said she was unable to return to work at the end of her maternity leave because she could not secure childcare for her son and had to go on unpaid leave for three months before being able to get furloughed.
“We need help,” she said.
“More mothers are suffering with career depression.
“It’s really, really affected me and my mental health and that’s established through not having that support.”
Sally Hogg, head of policy and campaigning at the Parent-Infant Foundation, told the committee that she found the lack of progress a year into the pandemic “shocking”.
More than 226,000 people signed an e-petition started by Jessie Zammit and her husband James Zammit-Garcia in April 2020 calling for the Government to extend maternity leave by three months with pay due to Covid-19.
Ms Hogg she said: “It was shocking how much that we were saying a year ago is still the same a year on.
“Themes around isolation, a lack of support for parents and traumatic experiences at birth.”
She also warned that the stresses put on families in early stages of a baby’s development do not just affect the mental health of the parents, but can have an impact on the child’s future.
“We’re now seeing the evidence starting to emerge of the impact that this has had, and sadly we’re just going to continue to see some of that stuff become real and see the differences in children’s outcomes as they start in childcare settings and as they start school unless we really act now”, she added.
The committee also heard about the difficulties women faced regarding safety while working during their pregnancy and after having a baby.
Rosalind Bragg, director at charity Maternity Action, said the situation was particularly difficult for women more than 28 weeks pregnant or those with underlying health conditions because they have a “significantly increased risk of hospitalisation and death”.
She told the hearing: “Roughly a quarter of all calls to our advice lines, since the pandemic have been from women concerned for health and safety at work.
“For women, particularly in frontline roles, health and safety management has been consistently poor throughout the pandemic.
“It’s certainly our view that women should be placed on maternity suspension for frontline roles from 28 weeks or if there’s an underlying health condition.
“This is very unusual to see in practice, and we continue to hear from women in care work, childcare, teaching, and other public facing roles who are required to continue working in those roles throughout their pregnancy.”
The Petitions Committee will present the findings discussed during Wednesday’s review to the Government.