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Supporting parent-infant relationships in the time of Covid-19

By Zanele Mokolutlo

It hasn't been easy to continue with our services with all the regulations that one has to adhere to. It was mostly difficult when I first resumed duties at the clinics.

The basis of our work is to build trust. Trust can sometimes be obtained by how I speak, what I talk about and knowledge of what I'm able to share. I have relied on my face and my smile over the years to build that trust so that I can offer support. Relationships are forged and enhanced in that way in my line of work.

Approaching caregivers with my face covered with a mask, proved to be difficult. I didn't have my usual tool.

It wasn't easy to adjust , no tools - face and smile, NBO bag or baby mat bag, it is just me and my voice, making sure it is raised higher and clear as far as possible. Feedback with their body language also gives me confidence that I am heard and my presentation is given some thought, but it proved to be difficult to judge their response with half masked faces and a serious stare,that made me become doubtful.

I began to question if I am "essential" enough, in this pandemic.

Being restricted to get too close to the parent and infant also wasn't making it easier for me to create a safe space for them.

I had to learn and accept that things have changed, I had to be innovative in order to continue offering support to parents.

In my way of being and with my experience as an ECCP (Early Childhood Community Practitioner) and a mother, importantly, a human- umuntu. It was important for me to offer a different experience and service - Support in a strength-based way and taking into consideration the parents’ needs and the kind of support that baby may need.

Whether standing across the mom or sitting next to her, and just ask "kunjani ". Asking about them is very important - how they experienced the birth process, the early days, emotional and physical health, any support at home. It is an experience or service that they might not get at the clinic. This is an opportunity for the mothers and fathers to have someone that can just ask about them, about their baby and about other children they have at home. It is a brief interaction between me and the caregiver, individualised and protected.

The intention of my interaction is to make them feel that, to me they are not just a number or information on a clinic card.

Different to what the nurses offer. To the clinic they are a number, but to me they are individuals with different personalities and parenting styles.

Even through the mask, there is something of her as a mother that can be seen and it can enhance parent-baby engagement.

What I take from this experience is the importance of protecting and supporting positive relationships, even in this pandemic.

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