Government guidance is changing at a fast pace. Parents have asked when we will be returning to face to face support with both our Nourished feeding drop-in’s and our baby & toddler sessions. Whilst we understand the need for these sessions, we need to balance the health & safety aspect with goverment guidance and the need for support. This blog post explains the rationale behind our plans moving forwards.

What does the guidance state?

The UK goverment lockdown guidance states the following:

Support groups that have to be delivered in person can continue with up to 15 participants where formally organised to provide mutual aid, therapy or any other form of support. Support groups must not take place in a private home. Examples of support groups include those that provide support to:

recent parents (including breastfeeding, postnatal, and baby and toddler groups, for the provision of support)

However, guidance from the Early Years Alliance states:

During national lockdown, the previous exemption for ‘parent and child groups’ from wider Covid restrictions has been removed.

While support groups, such as breastfeeding, postnatal and groups that provide support to parents and children that is necessary to deliver in person can continue with up to 15 participants, the government advises that “this would not typically permit parent-and-child groups focused on social or development activities, such as singalong groups or art classes.”

A spokesperson for DSHC told the Alliance: “This is consistent with other changes to exemptions. We also have closed schools and removed the exemption for supervised activities for children (apart from vulnerable children and the children of key workers). “We appreciate how important these groups are and how valuable they are for small children, however there is a high transmission risk in these settings and this is a necessary step.”

From 29 March parent and child groups will be able to take place outdoors with a limit of 15 attendees (children under five years of age do not count towards the attendee limit). Indoor parent and child groups (with a limit of up to 15 people, not including children under five) will not be able to resume until 12 April at the earliest.

What does this mean to Nourished feeding drop-in’s?

We have been running our Wednesday evening Zoom drop-in’s for almost 12 months. In addition we also have Monday morning zoom drop-in when face to face support has not been an option. At times we have taken the decision to offer Zoom rather than face to face support even when able. An example was September 2020 when we held off to see how local transmission rates were affected by schools and college returning.

As an organisation we have really reflected on the wording and feel that although breastfeeding support is easier in person, the social aspect of support can be met via Zoom with a skilled facilitator. Therefore we cannot, with absolute certainty say that our drop-in’s ‘have’ to be delivered in person.

We have taken the decision to re-open our face to face drop-in’s after the Easter Holiday’s provided that local cases are low. This allows us to see what happens with schools reopening and how this affects local transmission rates.

We will still be continuing our Wednesday evening Zoom drop-in’s in March but temporarily pausing Monday morning drop-in’s.

Image of a Nourished feeding drop-in prior to the pandemic

Will Early Nourishment provide other ways to get in-person breastfeeding & infant feeding support?

Yes! Very shortly we will offer 1:1 sessions with Hannah, our breastfeeding counsellor, in Barnstaple. Keep an eye on our What’s on section of the website to book a slot. The premises will be cleaned & ventilated between appointments.

What about Babbling Babies, Little Pebbles & other baby/toddler activities?

Parent and toddler groups & activities can resume from 29th March providing they take place outside. Therefore we will be resuming Babbling Babies Walk & talk. We will also be restarting Little Pebbles Toddle & Craft outside after the Easter holidays. We cannot restart social support groups during national lockdown.

Will you be re-sarting the indoor playgroups that you had prior to the pandemic?

Government guidance states that if the ‘road map’ to unlock is able to be followed, that indoor parent & toddler activities may start from April 12.

However, these will be subject to covid risk assessment. There is no official guidance for baby & toddler groups which is frustrating. We had initially thought that we could use the framework that childcare settings use. However, baby & toddler groups cannot follow the guidance of bubbles unless they have the same people attending each week. We have toys that can be played with during the Nourished drop-in’s. These will be fully washed and disinfected after each session.

Image of a role play corner for Little Pebbles prior to the pandemic

Can groups be carried out safely indoors?

The safest way to run indoor groups will be to limit numbers to ensure social distancing. For 15 parents & children a venue of 50 squared meters is needed with a 1m social distancing rule. This increases to 90 squared meters with a 2m social disancing rule. A group with just 10 parents and toddlers would need to be 60 metered squared which is larger than the room we used to rent in the library! Even finding a large enough venue will be tricky, without adding into the mix that preschool children cannot socially distance.

Groups that are likely to be safer are groups where babies/children are given individual activities. Combined with family groups being least 2m away from another family group. Locally groups such as Baby Sensory North Devon or Sarah’s Messy Play have this set-up.

What is the risk of covid?

Covid cases here are very low. As of March 6 only around 20 cases in the whole of North Devon & Torridge. The risk to the individual from contracting the virus is very dependant on the person. In children, this appears to be mild or assymptomatic, which is brilliant news. In younger adults this also seems the case. However if there are other health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or respiritory issues then there is an increased risk.

The issue with groups indoors is the transmission risk. If we held a group for 8 toddlers & parents (venue capacity with 2m rule) and one family was asymptomatic of COVID-19. 5 of these toddlers had siblings at 5 different local schools. This could potentially mean that one toddler group could be a transmission vector to infect 7 other families immediately. Then potentially 1000’s if the infection is taken into those schools.

Therefore, we feel our public health duty is to ensure that we are not just offering best practice in hygiene and capacity but also actively finding novel ways to meet the social need whilst keeping our service users and local community safe.

Moving forward

We will be watching the guidance and transmission rates. We will be offering outdoor sessions when legal and small drop-in’s & 1:1 face to face support. Hug in a Mug & Wednesday feeding drop-in’s until there is no longer a need. We will continue to balance the risk and need as we know how how much new parents need support.

Visit the What’s On section of the website to see what we are offering right now.