The pandemic was difficult for everyone. Billions of people from around the world had to stay at home for the majority of the year to keep themselves and their loved ones safe from the threat of the virus.
The lockdown affected everyone in a variety of ways. Some were alone in their little apartments in major cities, unable to interact with anyone for weeks to months. Many are with family, working or studying together in different parts of the house. There are those who were lucky to live in areas where life remained relatively normal except for mask-wearing and physical distancing.
The experiences of babies who were born during the pandemic were unique in the sense that the only world that they know is inside the house. They are growing up indoors. While they are unlikely to remember time spent at home during a global public health crisis, experts fear that it will have lasting effects on their development.
Babies Under Lockdown
The birth rate in the United States fell steeply in 2020. There were 55.8 births per 1,000 American women between the ages 15 and 44, 4 percent lower than the rate in 2019 and the lowest since the government started keeping records in 1909. It was not the pandemic that was at fault; while, during the global crisis, many couples might decide to have children after the situation has subsided, the low birth rate in 2020 was part of a decline that has been happening for six years now. Since 2014, the birth rate in the U.S. has been declining.
Despite the decline, about 3.6 million babies were born in the U.S. in 2020, while cases of COVID-19 have been increasing in every state, and stay-at-home orders were imposed on cities battling outbreaks.
The Negative Impacts of Pandemic Lockdown
For millions of babies, there will be no visits to grandma and grandpa every other weekend, no big parties with extended family during holidays, no driving to the store to buy baby products or groceries, and, most importantly, no playdates where they can socialize with other young children.
Parents are seeing the impact of the pandemic on the children’s behavior. Some said that their babies have become very clingy. A number shared that their babies have developed a fear of strangers whenever they are outdoors.
Humans start to learn in infancy. A baby also needs interactions with other people outside of their household to have a normal and positive social development.
It is not just babies who might be experiencing lasting impacts from the pandemic. Older children also need socialization as they grow to widen their vocabulary, which will put them ahead of their classmates in school, and to gain important social skills.
The Positive Side of Lockdown
It was not all bad, said some parents. While there is concern about the impact of lockdowns on the development of their babies, some choose to see the positive side of it.
One example is, parents got to spend more time with their babies and watch them grow. The lockdowns forced everyone to work from home. There were no time-consuming and tiring commutes, and the parents could finish work earlier because they have better control of their time. The parents were more present in the lives of their babies.
Many parents also saw changes within themselves. Fathers said there was less avoidant attachment. Mothers reported improved life satisfaction.
Can the Impact of the Pandemic Be Undone?
An expert told The Guardian that it is untrue that babies should have regular and varied interactions to grow up sociable. Being in a “safe, predictable, reliable” environment can give them a boost of confidence to explore the world. They will bring this as they grow older.
Everyone will need support to recover from the trauma of living through a pandemic. There will likely be programs introduced to help children cope with their experiences from the past year. However, adults will also need assistance to navigate grief, fear and anxiety, and other emotions that the pandemic brought about.
But, parents should not worry too much about their children’s well-being. There is no way to erase the experience of the past year completely, especially among older children. However, previous scientific studies assure that children will bounce back eventually. There have been individuals who were stuck indoors for longer than the pandemic, and they, too, recovered after the setback.
Still, more studies have to be conducted to fully see the impact of the pandemic on babies born in 2020. Right now, parents can rest knowing that their babies will still have a normal life even if they were born during an extraordinary year.