Lockdown HAS affected babies' development and behaviour, study shows

Lockdown HAS affected babies’ development and behaviour, survey of 5,500 parents shows – as mothers say their children have become ‘clingy, upset and violent’

  • Lockdown has affected the behaviour of babies across the UK, survey suggests
  • The Babies In Lockdown report found some new parents felt ‘abandoned’ 
  • Others said babies have become ‘clingy’, ‘violent’ and ‘upset’ in recent months 

Lockdown has affected the development and behaviour of babies across the UK, a study suggests.  

The Babies In Lockdown report, commissioned by three leading UK children and parents advocacy groups, found some new parents felt ‘abandoned’ by the lack of care available during lockdown. 

Others said their baby had become more clingy or was crying more than usual. 

More than 200,000 babies are believed to have been born when lockdown was at its most restrictive, between 23 March and 4 July, according to the research. 

More than 200,000 babies are believed to have been born when lockdown was at its most restrictive, between 23 March and 4 July, according to the research. Stock image

The survey suggests the impact of Covid-19 on these babies could be ‘severe’ and may be ‘long-lasting’ as both caregivers and the children themselves are impacted by the pandemic. 

A third (34 per cent) of respondents believed that their baby’s interaction with them had changed during the lockdown period. Almost half (47 per cent) of parents reported that their baby had become more clingy. One quarter (26 per cent) reported their baby crying more than usual.

One 38-year-old mother, from Scotland, said: ‘I have been crying for hours on end, having anxiety and panic attacks which are all out of the ordinary for me. This has affected my nine month old son who has seen me experience this and has been more tearful and clingy with me…

‘My son is hating me working from home because he doesn’t understand why mama is ignoring him when he can hear me and is now super clingy with me. He had never had screen time or seen me use a mobile before this. Now most of his social interactions are online and he doesn’t understand why I am locked away 35 hours a week in the bedroom.’

Another Scottish mother, 24, who has a two-year-old and is five months pregnant, added: ‘My two-year-old has become violent and upset quite a lot of the time due to this. He’s finding it hard just seeing and being in contact with two people. I

‘I fear for the effects this lockdown will have on him later in life.’

A third mother, aged 37, from Greater London, said: ‘I planned to enrol my 15-months-old (in March) to a nursery to help him with his social skills – he does not say words and is not responding to his name which worries me. 

‘Not this is not possible [sic], I suspect his development is possibly behind but can do nothing about it at the moment. My 4 months old has only seen his brother, father and my face. I’m worried about his development also, I planned to take him to various classes, meet other mums with babies – this is also not possible at the moment.’

Some parents also expressed concerns over the support they were offered before and after the birth. Over a third (34 per cent) of those who gave birth during lockdown stated that care at birth was not as planned.

The study was commissioned by Best Beginnings, Home-Start UK and the Parent-Infant Foundation.

Should parents be worried about lockdown? The experts weigh in… 


Dr Sophie Niedermaier-Patramani, Co-Founder and In House Paediatrician at Little Tummy, said: ‘Early social interaction can play an important role in a child’s development. It drives the development of communication and language skills. 

‘Babies start to interact with their caregivers from the very first moment they are born. By bonding with the people closest to them they will develop a sense of security and resilience. The interaction between primary caregiver and the babies themselves dominates the social development in the first 18 months of life.

‘Children start playing next to each other around the age of 24 months and will loosely include other children into their play around the age of 3. This is when they start developing their social skills with peers of the same age and truly benefit from spending time around other children.’ 

Harriet Shearsmith, founder of parenting website TobyandRoo, added: ‘Babies and Toddlers are learning so much at such a fast rate and social interaction plays a vital role in developing their social skills, it can help improve their confidence and make a transition to preschool much easier.’


Dr Niedermaier-Patramani said: ‘Babies under one enjoy growing up with a daily routine and a safe and caring environment. Therefore lockdown will not have had a major impact on their development. Most baby classes where parents learn how to support their little ones’ development have moved online, so parents still have access to guidance. 

‘The wonderful thing about children’s brains is that they adapt easily to these challenging times. They will replace peers with parents or older siblings and still train their social skills, just in a different way. And once lockdown is eased, they will catch up quickly.’

Angela Spencer, a parenting expert with over 25 years’ experience, agreed lockdown would have little impact on very young babies. She said: ‘I am one of the old fashioned ones that believes the first six weeks for a baby is purely for bonding time with their mum and dad.  

‘Babies and children learn from their senses so by watching, hearing, and then doing what others around them are. There’s no right or wrong time for socialising for a baby, as long as they are getting positive interaction from those around them, social skills will develop from every experience they have, so a few weeks in lockdown won’t do any harm and you can introduce other babies and children as experiences allow.’


Dr Niedermaier-Patramani said: ‘Every baby will go through a phase when they appear to be more clingy – for some it can be more extreme than others, but this is generally a personality thing. Separation anxiety happens around the age of 9 to 12 months and is a normal part of their social skill development.’


Dr Niedermaier-Patramani said: ‘Children who have just started preschool have a period where they thrive in their development through the stimulation they experience at school. They will also be developmentally ready to learn from their peers and make impressive leaps. Narrowing the social circle to a few people will delay this period to a later point – but will most likely not have a significant impact on the longer term.’


Dr Niedermaier-Patramani said: ‘Once lockdown is loosened, children might go through a transitional period where they will get used to moving in a broader social network and meeting others. For anxious children, it might take longer to get used to the new environment and they will need extra support and reassurance from their parents. My prediction is that these effects are transitional and will be forgotten before the end of the year.’ 

Angela said: ‘Children take their cues from their parents, and in particular the ones we don’t think are obvious such as our body language and our energy/feelings towards others and this is where the ‘stranger danger’ is more likely to develop. 

‘It is a parent’s job to show children how to interact positively in this world, be confident and polite but aware of their boundaries and safety. This we can still do after lockdown.’


Rather than focus on the unavoidable challenges of lockdown, I would look on the brighter side of things: Lockdown can be a great opportunity to strengthen the bond between family members. Strong families create strong, resilient children, helping them to adapt more easily to stressful situations later in life.

‘Lockdown is also a great time to help babies reach new milestones, for example beginning the weaning journey, which can be great fun but also time consuming. At Little Tummy, we work hard to provide advice and support for parents to help them when weaning babies onto solids. Now is a great opportunity to explore new flavours and food textures with baby.’


Harriet said: ‘I would be encouraging lots of FaceTime and voice calls with friends and family to allow my child to hear other voices, and once we felt it was safe to do so, we would start meeting up for socially distanced walks and introducing our baby back into this new world.’

Dr Niedermaier-Patramani said: ‘I encourage parents to reserve specific times of the day only for their children. It can be hard to juggle household chores, working from home and childcare at the same time and we often try to do everything simultaneously. Children will benefit from dedicated playtime where they can interact with their parents and have their full attention.

‘A lot of nurseries and schools give recommendations for activities at home. These include singing, arts and crafts or turning your flat into an obstacle course. Try to offer them a variety so you can stimulate all skill sets.

‘Minding your own mental health is so important. Where possible try to carve out a little time each day (even thirty minutes) to do something for yourself; a bubble bath; meditation; a video call with a friend. There is no denying that this situation is hugely challenging, so try to be kind to yourself.’ 

Angela said: ‘This is an easy one! Interact and play! Think sensory and nature as they are the key philosophies of my company Babyopathy – sing, read, talk, play music, dance, show them the beauty of nature that surrounds them in the flowers (colours), plants (textures and shapes), animals (noises etc), play in the dirt with cars and animals, crawl through the grass, run through puddles, don’t be afraid to dance in the rain and make a fort to sit in the dark and play with torches and light! I could go on and on, the list is endless but most importantly just have fun!’ 

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