I had a baby. When can I start seeing relatives in person?

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Our hearts go out to those of you with new babies who, due to the need for social distancing, have not been able to connect with loved ones in person. As the pandemic evolves and the country looks toward reopening, however, the question of when it will be okay to meet without six feet of distance will only become less clear-cut. In making this decision, you’ll want to think through a variety of factors from all sides of the equation in order to find a solution that’s safe, appropriate, and responsible.




In terms of best practices around the baby’s safety, one member reported the following guidance from Downtown Women during a late May webinar: “They affirmed all the guidance about social distancing and vulnerabilities of at-risk groups, and really emphasized vigilance for at least the first two months. This is because the baby's immune system undergoes a lot of development in that time and they have most important vaccinations by then.”


In terms of your own immediate family, you need to consider the amount of time you’ve been quarantining and how strictly you’ve been social distancing; the presence of preexisting conditions; and your overall level of risk tolerance—that is, will the anxiety caused by seeing people outside your “quarantine pod” outweigh the benefits? In terms of your visitors, you’ll need to think through those same factors plus your ability to quarantine them/distance from them once they arrive: Can you rent them an Airbnb or hotel? Is there space in your apartment for them to maintain some distance? Do you have ample outdoor spaces available for socially distanced walks/picnics/etc.?


Some members have been meeting with relatives while adding extra precautions:



“We made the decision to leave NYC last week, rented a car and drove 14 hrs to Nashville with a newborn, 21 month old daughter and our dog, to stay with family. We questioned if we were making the right choice the entire way, but after a week we’re happy we did. We’re still social distancing and being careful even though this state is opening up, but just being in a house with a yard and other people to talk to has made a huge difference mentally. I’m happy they’re able to see the baby while she's little and really appreciate the extra help. We don’t know when we'll be back and thinking we’ll find a local pediatrician for her 2 month immunizations.”


“Immediately after our daughter was born we began a strict quarantine and so did my parents. After two weeks, they drove here from RI, not stopping, and came straight from the car to our house. Since then we have not left the house, hopefully minimizing any potential risk to others. They are going to go home after two weeks with us and quarantine in RI again. In two weeks we’re going to repeat the process with my in-laws. We just all couldn’t bear not to let the grandparents hold her, and we feel we’ve kept risk to our elderly parents, the baby and our fellow New Yorkers extremely low.”


“Right now I am thinking that we will drive with my mom to New Jersey and have my dad come visit the baby at her house — but we will sit outside and wear masks, to minimize the risks. I feel a little bit bad saying that it should just be him and not his wife as well, but it also seems like involving the fewest people possible in this meeting is the most conservative approach.”


You may need to create slightly different protocols for different relatives, depending on their respective levels of risk:



“For parents (in their 50's and 60's) we went inside their house. For the grandparents (in their 80's) so as to not invade their safe space in their house, we actually pulled cars out of garages, tried to heat them best we could, and hung out in there.”


“Our plan is to have my mom quarantine at her home for the same 2 weeks that we're quarantining postpartum, and then she's going to stay at an airbnb within a few blocks from us for about a week. She can drive in, has communicated a lot with the host about cleaning protocols, and is still planning to bring cleaning supplies with her to disinfect when she gets there. So we're letting her in our germ circle even though she won't technically be living in our home, which of course has slightly increased risk, but with proper precautions we've decided we're comfortable with it."


"My dad is older and has some health conditions so it's a bit of a different story - he's also going to drive in and stay at an airbnb for a few days after my mom leaves, but is planning to stay 6 feet away from us in the apt and we'll wear masks while he's visiting. This one is more about him being able to see the baby and less about helping us out.”


Travel is also a key aspect, whether your visitors are coming to you or you or vice versa. Driving, for instance, is less risky than flying, but if your visitors are coming in from far away or vice versa, than hotels, rest stops/gas stations, public bathrooms, restaurants, and rental cars are also risk factors.


“My parents couldn't drive 2.5 days up from Florida but we discussed it a bunch of times.  They said most of the people on the plane were clustered together at the front and one person didn't even wear a mask.  Would have been much better if they could have driven. We actually realized the bigger concern was their health being in their mid/late 60s rather than the baby in terms of the statistics of it.  I mean both, but we really would have preferred they not have been exposed ... but my mom not getting to hold the baby would have been worse for her. They're also staying in their own AirBnB from day 3 (when they'd start being contagious to us) to the end of the 2nd week so we'd basically know if they're sick.”


“We planned out the trip to go half way and stop in Roanoke overnight. ... We packed a bunch of food and stopped for lunch each day at a rest stop, picking ones that had those outdoor picnic tables. They were great bc we had no contact with others and our daughter could run around and stretch her legs. Bathrooms weren’t conceding there either bc lower foot traffic and I just wore my mask and washed my hands. I was thankful my toddler is also still in diapers so she didn’t need to go in. … The upside is that traffic was nonexistent so we got there in record time. We stopped after 3 1/2 hours for lunch and then arrived after 7 hr drive time. We bought her an Amazon fire for the trip it helped out a lot. Also have lots of snacks! This is probably the best time to travel that distance with a newborn, she slept most of the way.”



And that can include common-sense precautions such as testing (if available) and avoiding the relatives coming and going once they’ve joined your “pod”:

“I think this is a very personal decision, but we actually had a meet and greet with our pediatrician this morning and I told him that my mom is planning to come to be here for help immediately after birth. He said two helpful things:
1. He suggested she get tested a few days before she comes, for peace of mind
2. He said once she's here, she's part of the "family unit" and to keep it like that. So no coming and going, she does the same exposure/isolation as my husband and I, as if we are a household for the period that she's here.
Other than that, it was common sense really! We haven't really ironed out our "rules" yet, but I'm thinking we probably won't have any indoor visitors for the first 2 months. We may meet up in the park with immediate family, but that could be it. (For reference, we've been meeting up in the park with friends, but will likely stop that for the first 2 months with a newborn). We'll see how it goes. I think we may figure it out as things progress with the virus, etc.”


"Luckily, my parents and sibling can drive to BK, and a friend has generously offered to let them stay in his (empty) apartment. Now that testing is more widely available I feel like I'd rest easy having family take a test a few days before they arrive (so that they get the results in time) and staying in our 'pod' once they are here."



Some members point out that, especially right at the beginning, having family members visit can actually be more of a hindrance than a help anyway:



I'd hold off until Fall. You'll have a better grasp on the COVID situation (*fingers crossed*), and at least for the first few weeks, the baby is relatively chill, eating and sleeping (or at least in my experiences), so they may be more of a hindrance rather than a help.”


Aside from Covid-- It is true, whoever said it, that some visitors can feel more like guests and it becomes more stressful to have them, so that situation might not be worth the risk. However, if you plan to have someone take the risk to help, definitely set guidelines with them to make sure they help more than hinder. They are not there just to hold the baby and have you wait on them, haha, which I know can happen if you are not clear and honest with them in advance. Here's an interesting PSP article that addresses this topic, although obviously there is now the added covid complication, but this is helpful to think about nonetheless!”


My in-laws arrived immediately afterwards and let's just say that while I received tons of help with the daily chores, etc., the close quarters was much more than we bargained for. Especially with all the emotional turmoil of an unplanned c-section. Everyone's family dynamic is different, but it is definitely a big consideration when you live in small(er/ish) NYC apartments.”



But on the other hand, the benefits of having extra support may outweigh the risk:


"Personally, as a first-time parent, I can't imagine trying to handle the first couple months of my kid's life without help from my family. My partner is unlikely to be able to take full-time parental leave after birth, and our financial situation doesn't allow for hired help. So if the choice is between accepting some extra risk by having family around or trying to go it alone for a good part of every day, I know which one I'm going to choose!"


“We will be first-time parents and the choice between minor risk of COVID exposure and my parents not being there to help us and for them to bond with the baby in the early weeks post-birth is an easy decision for us. That said, my parents are very healthy and in their early 60s, and I will ask them both to get tested a few days before they travel and to take reasonable precautions in the few weeks before they depart.”


“I birthed our first kid in a non-COVID time and I thought I knew what kind of support I would want or need, but it turned out to be quite different than I imagined. I feel like the best thing you can do for yourself, your partner, and your kid is just stay open to recognizing when you'd want more/ less/ different support than you envisioned and being able to be flexible with yourself around that.



No matter your situation, it’s important to have honest conversations about boundaries:



“So, depending on your relationship with your mom, I think having her around would be helpful but if you do decide to have, make sure to set some boundaries around what kind of help you want and when you want it. Ask her beforehand, ‘what can I say that that won’t be hurtful but will help you understand in the moment we need space?’ Luckily, it will be nice outside, so maybe you can ask her to give you guys a few hours every day of alone time.”



And since circumstances are changing day to day, it may provide peace of mind to keep travel plans flexible for as long as possible:


I’ve told family to book only flights/lodging that are refundable or flexible. That way they can make their plans, but when it gets closer to the date and we have a clearer picture of what’s safe/not safe, we can reorient if needed.”


Ultimately, there’s no one right answer, and this decision will likely continue to be a challenging one until the day (fingers crossed!) when vaccines, treatment, and testing are widely available. Stay informed on data and recommendations from public health experts and local governments both here in NYC and in the areas where your relatives reside. Talk with your primary care physician and birth provider about your specific situation, and ask your potential visitors to have discussions with their doctors as well. And, as always, prioritize open and honest communication with your loved ones about risks, rewards, and realities.


I think the key to all of this is really good communication. It really sets you free. It was such an uncomfortable conversation with my parents but ultimately, we feel empowered having done it and asked for what we wanted.”