For a reminder about the project see Sarah’s blog here.
In the past eight weeks we’ve heard from 48 parents, over 50 practitioners and more than 20 volunteers, all about their experiences of becoming or supporting new parents. All of this, alongside analysis of our evaluation and operational data, will help us understand how best we can reach more parents and deliver the best support for all across the first 1,000 days.
During this time, I’ve been travelling around the UK, from Pudsey to Peckham, with researchers from Good Innovation, visiting new and expectant first-time parents in their homes. I’ve got to know Birmingham and Leeds train stations very well, particularly the Pret a Mangers! We’ll also be in Belfast, Exeter, Glasgow and Cardiff hearing from parents over the next month.
The purpose of the interviews is to uncover deep behavioural insight – to get under the skin of why people act and feel the way they do. Unsurprisingly, interviews with new and expectant parents elicit a lot of raw emotion; some have struggled to conceive and talked us through their IVF journey, others have had traumatic births, and many are still navigating the minefield of sleep deprivation and a new baby.
Key themes have started to emerge from these interviews and some of these are below. Many of them mirror what we have heard from practitioners and volunteers who are supporting parents all the time, and we’ve also gained lots of new insights into the experiences and support needs of expectant and new parents through this process.
People rarely have the time/opportunity to reflect on their journey to parenthood
One of the exercises we get parents to do as homework before we meet them is a ‘journey map’; we ask them to map out their journey to parenthood so far – the highs and lows, where they have got support and information along the way. Almost all of the parents we spoke to, especially those in the throes of early parenthood, told us that doing this exercise was actually one of the first times they had reflected on becoming a parent since they had had their baby. For many, it felt quite a therapeutic process. It really brought the reality of their experiences to life and helped us understand the real pressure points and opportunities for support.
The highs and lows are different for mums and partners
Another interesting aspect of this was the variation between mothers’ and partners’ journeys. For one expectant father, finding out his partner was pregnant was a high. She counted it as a low though, because of all the decisions it meant she had to make about her career. She said she felt guilty for not being happy when she found out. Guilt around not being the perfect mother was another theme that came up again and again.
Mind the postnatal gap
We know from other research and anecdotally that the early days with a new baby can be the most difficult period. But the strength of emotion when people spoke about the early days really brought home the depth of it too. Parents told us that they felt ‘dropped’ by services, sometimes even by NCT which had provided such a solid source of support but didn’t feel relevant once they had had their baby. Other parents who had to stay in hospital due to complications with the birth said that had they not had that time to learn about how to feed and change their baby, they don’t know what they would have done.
Parents as partners
Mums and partners are very much in it together, and it has been great to dig into their respective roles and support needs as they welcome a new baby to the family. Many couples talked about both their efforts to adopt more healthy lifestyles since finding out they will become parents.
Practitioners and volunteers
We had a great response to our call for interest in the project with over 200 people signing up. If you want to there’s still time to sign up and get involved with ourNCTservices – just email Caroline Star.
As well as getting out and about to observe services, we have various workshops and calls coming up – check out Babble for more info.
We will also be talking about the project and hearing from you at the upcoming Regional Practitioner Forums in Edinburgh, London and Manchester – see you there!