Parents and their babies in England have been able to mix indoors with their peers in larger groups after an “isolating” lockdown period.
Louise Evans, who runs a group for parents and children aged up to a year old in Yaxley, Cambridgeshire, said the mothers were “buzzing” to be back and the babies “lit up” when they saw each other.
On Monday, 25 mothers attended the support group with their babies and they shared tips and guidance over a hot drink and sweet treats, Ms Evans said.
She told the PA news agency: “I noticed the difference in the babies as soon as they came in. The interaction with other babies, the way they would light up when they see other babies, was just lovely.
“Today the mums were literally just all buzzing because it was lovely, it was busy, it was popular and everybody was really happy so it was a good turnout today.”
Ms Evans added: “It’s been so hard. They have been so isolated. And this is where we get our guidance and support from each other.
“And I always say to them ‘it doesn’t matter what you look like, how you feel, come out, meet other ladies. I’ll make you a nice warm drink and you get to sit down and put your feet up for an hour’.”
The number of parents who can attend support groups or parent-and-child groups with their preschool children in England increased from 15 to 30 as restrictions eased on Monday.
Children under five years old – and anyone working or volunteering as part of the group – are not counted as part of the attendee number.
These parent-and-child groups can take place indoors and outdoors, but not in private homes or gardens.
Jessica Jones, who has a 10-month-old, attended a baby sensory class on Monday in Sidcup, Kent, as restrictions lifted further across the country.
She told PA: “Being in lockdown has been really isolating and I’ve really struggled with it. But over the last few weeks, with going to classes, I have met other mums and it has been really nice.”
She said: “If you take her out the house, you can tell she’s not comfortable. So meeting new people sometimes can be quite daunting for her, she doesn’t warm up to them very quickly.”
Renee Micklefield, who runs the sensory class in Sidcup for babies and their parents, said the demand for classes is “unprecedented”.
She told PA: “Parents are quite excited about getting out and going to other places. More classes are opening up, being able to go to cafes and meet as parents to have a chat.”
On the feedback from parents, she said: “Overwhelmingly it is a sense of relief that they get to come out, that they get to spend some time being social – although there is social distancing in place – we have got feel-good-factor music and it just makes people feel quite happy.
“A lot of people are heading back to work and they’ve only had a handful of sessions and that’s been a real source of frustration as well. A feeling that they’ve missed on something is quite strong.”
She said one mother who attended class on Monday said she was due back to work soon and most of her family had not even met her one-year-old baby yet.
Ms Micklefield added: “There’s been a lot of tears actually when we first open up each time out of lockdown. Lots of emotions running very high.”
Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance (EYA), said: “Parent and toddler groups offer a vital service to families, not only providing a welcome opportunity for parents to meet and get to know other parents, but also delivering crucial opportunities for young children to play, learn and socialise.
“We know that many babies and toddlers have had very limited social contact during the pandemic, and so parents will be hugely relieved that these groups, which have worked incredibly hard to ensure that they are able to offer clean, safe and positive spaces for families to visit, are now able to open to larger numbers.”