But to keep our little ones safe, we’ve had to tidy them up, keep them away from cooing visitors and other children, and do everything in our power to keep them safe as we weather this pandemic. It also means they won’t get the attention and experiences that other babies have had.
While I don’t blame you for worrying about social isolation, I’ll be honest with you: there’s not much to worry about, developmentally. Five-month-old babies are very curious, attentive and interactive. At this stage, they need very little to grow socially.
During the first year of life, humans only need a few attachments: the adults who love and care for them fully. Because caring for a baby is so physical, it requires you and other loving adults to be there to feed, hold, change, talk to and laugh with – and watch in the eyes. The exchange of physical contact and the resulting “love” hormones result in a deep bond between parent and child. This attachment orients your baby to the rest of the world, not the other way around. Your baby does not need to be socialized; they just need you (and whoever supports you) to laugh, giggle, sing, read and talk with them. Your baby’s brain would be fine with other children and activities, but only if their attachment to you is warm and loving.
“This is a critical developmental time for your baby, but these parental interactions appear to be the most critical in an infant’s development,” says Gregory Germain, assistant chief of pediatrics at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. “And if you have a partner, a grandparent, a trusted caretaker who will be on board with whatever precautions you deem warranted, your baby will also benefit from those unmasked interactions.”
If your baby is doing well, who needs social interaction the most? Yeah, it’s you. Parenting (especially mothering) young babies before the pandemic was an isolating experience in the United States, now what? I am even more concerned about the mental health of new parents. “The social stimulation of activities such as library events, get-togethers, play dates, during these more isolated months is important for parents,” says Krupa Playforth, a pediatrician and mother of three.
Making friends with other parents who are at the same stage as you can be sanity-saving, and it’s essential in the early stages of parenthood. Spring is here, so trust the data that babies are less likely to have severe cases of covid-19, talk to your pediatrician, and get out there. Nature becomes its own beautiful socialization, as 5-month-old babies are at a sensory age. Watch the birds take a bath, listen to the children play in the park, eat a banana with you, touch the grass and smell the flowers East how a baby is socialized. Story as you go because your baby loves your voice and learns as you speak, which strengthens your connection. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have a pandemic, but your child is listening to your face, and that’s what matters most.
“The bottom line is this: we face an unprecedented set of challenges, and the pressure to do everything ‘right’ is enormous,” says Playforth. “Parents are overwhelmed with ‘what ifs’ when it comes to things like development. Recognize that…children, especially babies, are actually much more resilient than we realize. Infants in very different contexts around the world, and with very different challenges, develop social skills. We are evolutionarily designed to do so. As parents, we can certainly improve this by providing opportunities to practice these skills, but even without these opportunities, many infants will continue to develop the skills on their own.