How Scotland's Baby Box can do even more for families - Lisa Kitching

It may have proved politically controversial to begin with, but there’s now hardly a parent in Scotland who wouldn’t have been glad to receive the Baby Box.

The Baby Box is due to celebrate its fourth birthday

It isn’t just that it contains vital items that will be much-needed for the journey ahead.

As a family expecting a newborn, the gift also helps get you in the zone for what’s coming down the tracks.

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Now, as we come out of lockdown, the Baby Box needs to progress and do even more for families who’ve suffered so terribly over the last 15 months.

Lisa Kitching

The box itself is entirely geared towards the baby, which is understandable, with items like bath thermometers, blankets and slings.

But it’s time to get more items in there for new mothers, especially with increasing problems in relation to isolation, loneliness and a potential timebomb in post-natal depression.

As well as the practical goods for the new arrival, it should contain in-depth and tailored help and advice for new mothers in terms of physical and mental health and a detailed resource for connecting with others in the new situation.

It must point women to where they can access help with their fitness and diet, and support for their psychological wellbeing in their specific area.

And it should establish an online resource where new mothers in the same part of the country can be introduced and form friendships to help each other through this new adventure.

It’s easy to write off these measures as wishy-washy and not the job of a central government. But the public health benefits it could bring in the long-term would far outweigh the modest additional costs and co-ordination.

Over the past year antenatal groups – so crucial in setting up connections among expecting parents – have been cancelled or moved to a vastly inferior digital format. That’s adversely impacted the preparation for expecting mothers and fathers alike.

Baby sensory classes, baby massage and breastfeeding cafes have all been scrapped.

My own fitness classes for new mums who wanted to get back in shape were postponed for months on end too.

These activities weren’t just about keeping shape – they could act as a lifeline to women who needed emotional support more than ever and could find just what they were looking for in others encountering the very same challenges.

You have to remember that the months following the birth of a baby can be lonely for women regardless of their circumstances, especially once the initial period of paternity leave ends for the partner and they’re left to face up to the day alone.

The network of social events over the years have been genuinely irreplaceable for some women, many of whom are stunned at how others have survived the past year without them.

During lockdown, instead of getting the baby into the pram and out for a coffee with their newly-arrived contemporaries, they’ve often been stuck at home with little to do other than get to the end of the day.

Hours of hypnotic baby TV has replaced fresh air and social gatherings for thousands, and through no fault of their own.

Buzzing groups of new mums have been forced to disperse and make do on their own. Often they couldn’t even turn to their own parents or siblings for physical support, such was the severity of restrictions in place at the height of the pandemic.

The importance of socialising for babies is well-documented, but it’s equally important for their exhausted and overwhelmed mothers.

That’s especially true for those in areas of deprivation who may never have been engaged in diet and exercise services previously.

Of course it’s the most wonderful time of a new mum’s life – but it can also be the most isolating and terrifying, even in the best of times.

As we’ve lived through the worst of times, new mothers have been left terribly exposed.

That can’t go on any longer, and the Baby Box has a positive role to play in reaching out to them.

This is an initiative which goes straight to the doorstep of every new parent in Scotland – there is literally no better avenue into the lives of these people.

The Baby Box will celebrate its fourth birthday in August, and what better way to mark that occasion than to ramp up its offering and extend the benefits even further.

Society overall will be happier and healthier as a result, and the taxpayer will barely notice.

Lisa Kitching is director of Edinburgh-based Baby Fit

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