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Why is BellyTots open online and in-person through the new lockdown?......

This lockdown, the government has decided that supervised children's activities that are essential to provide in-person may remain open. This is in recognition of the importance of these groups for infant development and socialisation; along with the equal importance of reducing social isolation for women with preschool children and supporting maternal mental health (Postnatal depression rates are very high). I feel that this is particularly important while Children's Centres remain closed for activities.

Where in the Government Guidelines does it say this?

In Part 3 Where and when you can meet in larger groups:

'- 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. This includes, but is not limited to, support to victims of crime, people in drug and alcohol recovery, new parents and guardians, people with long-term illnesses, people facing issues relating to their sexuality or gender, and those who have suffered bereavement, and vulnerable young people, including for them to meet young workers

- Parent and child groups can continue where they provide support to parent and/or child, and children under 5 will not be counted within the 15 person limit - meaning parents and carers can attend such groups in larger numbers'

In Part 4 Businesses and Venues, subsection 'businesses and venues which must close':

'These businesses and places will also be permitted to be open for a small number of exempt activities, including:

education and training (including for schools to use sports and leisure facilities where that it part of their normal provision)

childcare purposes and supervised activities for children

blood donation and food banks

to provide medical treatment

for elite sports persons (in indoor and outdoor sports facilities), professional dancers and choreographers (in fitness and dance studios)

for training and rehearsal without an audience (in theatres and concert halls)

for the purposes of professional film and TV filming'

Additionally, in a Department of Education letter to Happity this weekend (1st Nov):

the full screenshot of the full letter on headed email can be found in this post here:

Are you sure that BellyTots is included in the above exemptions?

As of writing this, yes, I am confident that it does. I am following developments closely and willing to change things or close if that is what is required. Here's why I'm confident to continue to run in-person classes for now:

Providing support for new parents on a 1 to 1 basis and in a group has always been at the heart of everything BellyTots does. It is embedded in our strapline on our home page:

'Loving Babies Nurturing Mamas & Mamas-to-be  Building community'

Classes always begin with an introductory round where Mamas are invited to share their name, baby's name and age, and their thoughts on a mothering topic which aims to highlight common challenges and solutions; or to get to know each other better. Every class includes refreshments and time to talk with other women at the end. This is specifically built into each class plan to facilitiate, build and encourage peer support. I love Pilates, Yoga and Baby Massage, but I teach them in order to provide support to Mamas in a way I wish I had been supported when my own babies were born. My Mamas regularly contact me with questions about sleep, feeding and infant development and I am always happy to help by answering myself (using my NCT training) and by contacting close colleagues if they have more training or experience in the specific area in question.

We most definitely provide supervised activity for children (babies) and education

We always seek to teach parents the rationale and benefit for the activities we provide. All our activites include elements that help to optimally develop a baby's brain and their abilities.

It is possible to run online, I have done since March, but it is essential for some Mamas to run in-person too

I am currently supporting some women in very difficult situations. Some recovering from extrememely challenging birth experiences; others battling low mood and anxiety; still others struggling with a baby who is unable to sleep or cries inconsolably. Attending in-person is a challenge for these women, but they describe it as a lifeline when they do. Online does not work for them due to the lack of energy and motivation to set up the tech when things are already difficult for them; the sense of isolation that the necessary 'muting' can cause; and the added intensity of not being sure when to speak through lack of verbal cues and internet drop out on Zoom. Many were in touch with me during lockdown, unable to face Zoom classes and desperately awaiting news of the restart of in-person classes.

It is essential for babies that classes run in-person. I love my online classes and am thrilled to be able to offer them for women who need to self-isolate and women who do not feel able to safely come to classes with the covid situation still so active. There are many benefits to parent and baby classes, whether online or in-person. However, there is very limited socialisation for babies through online classes. Babies may respond well to their Mums in live, online classes, and benefit from their Mums feeling happier and engaging with them so much, but they are not able to comprehend the group nature and therefore miss out on socialisation aspects. Many Mums comment during in-person classes about how their babies are fascinated by the other babies and other women. Something that rarely occurs in live, online classes. When I reopened in-person classes in September, it was the first time that many babies had been in the same room with another baby before. Babies born in lockdown have had an unusual and potentially isolating start in life; I believe the Government is keen for them not to be isolated again, and that is why supervised children's activities and groups providing any kind of support for new parenst are exempt, along with nurseries and schools too.

We are a Covid secure provider running in covid secure venues. Through lockdown, only formally organised and covid secure classes can operate in a public, covid secure venue. Perhaps due to my nursing background, I feel confident in the risk assessment I have created to minimise the risk of the spread of the virus in classes. Infection control was a huge part of my nursing degree and my nursing career. It is impossible to absolutely prevent the spread of infection, even in using aseptic technique or barrier nursing! But it is possible to lower the risk significantly in class settings through sensible, hygienic precuations. Through lockdown, we will limit class sizes even further to ensure a minimum of 2m between women. You can read about all the other measures I'm taking here. I have also ensured that I fit the criteria for covid secure nurseries and fitness classes as laid out by government; as these were the closest fit guidelines for my class. I have been really impressed by the measures taken by both my venues to ensure they are following the government guidelines for covid secure venues. Additionally, both venues are also satisfied that the government guidelines enable BellyTots to continue running in-person through lockdown.

Significant others agree with me. Close colleagues locally and further afield who care for Mothers and babies; two contacts I have at Public Health England; a medical doctor; a Health & Safety specialist; my two venues; the overwhelming majority of my clients; and Happity (who represent thousands of providers) agree that so far I have interpreted the guidelines correctly and am minimising risk and maximising benefits to women and babies at this time.

But why are other Baby classes closing?

I am in close contact with many colleagues as we all wrestle with the guidelines, the needs of our Mamas and the unique activities we provide - with very little time indeed to make these decisions. There are many reasons why some cannot continue;

Some had already moved back online before the exemptions became clear and it is too much work to swap back to in-person so quickly

Some could not run with the initial limit of 7 women either because their classes are much bigger than that and they can't just ban some of their clients and accept others, or because they could not break even with only 7 women. It seems that the limit of 7 has been lifted, but many, including myself, feel the need to limit numbers to add even more covid security through lockdown

Some have found that their venues have closed regardless, and they have no where to run their classes

Some feel very nervous about the current level of clarity and don't feel able to rely on it. They are waiting and hoping for much clearer and more specific guidance.

Some are not convinced that they are providing a support element stipulated by Government for support groups.

But is it morally right for BellyTots to stay open in-person just now?

Well, that is another difficult question, and one that I feel would be answered differently by different people in different circumstances. There is undoubtedly a risk of spreading the virus in classes, it is not possible to eliminate that risk for us or our clients. However, closing also risks harm to the women and babies who feel devastated by the thought of another 4 weeks isolated at home following an already sad and lonely version of the maternity leave they had dreamed of having before Covid hit. Although some may say 'It's only 4 weeks'. I vividly remember, as a new Mum myself all those years ago, wondering how to get through the next hour, let alone weeks. Much as we love our little ones, a day with a baby can sometimes feel like a week. Especially where there are other challenges. At present, I believe Government allows me to continue to provide a lifeline; and, that if they felt the risk was too great, there would be no exemptions to this lockdown, as there wasn't in the first.

Is BellyTots continuing to run in-person for financial reasons?

No. There is no difference to me financially either way. If I continue my in-person classes with lower numbers for safety, I should break even for November through what Mamas pay me; though it is unlikely I will make a profit. If I go online, I may have less clients, but I will not have my hall hire fees which would save me over £500 for November. I am so touched by those of you who have reached out to me with concerns for my liveliehood and offers to book future classes now; thank you so much for your love and care, from the bottom of my heart. As well as my BellyTots work I also continue to teach Antenatal Classes for NCT and NHS (through NCT) so have another income stream which is very helpful for supporting BellyTots.

Whatever you decide to do this lockdown, I want to be here for you. Please join me online or in-person, wherever you feel safest. I will do everything in my power to support you at this time and beyond

Liz x

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