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'Lockdown has allowed us to really bond as a family without any distractions'

Actress Melissa Suffield, who played Lucy Beale in EastEnders, tells Lisa Salmon what it’s like to have a new baby during a pandemic

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Melissa Suffield and baby River both wearing T-shirts designed by Melissa

Melissa Suffield and baby River both wearing T-shirts designed by Melissa

PA

Mum, son and dad Robert

Mum, son and dad Robert

PA

Melissa in EastEnders

Melissa in EastEnders

Melissa Suffield and baby River both wearing T-shirts designed by Melissa

Having a baby just before lockdown has definitely had its advantages for actress Melissa Suffield. The former EastEnders actress, who played the rebellious Lucy Beale, gave birth to her son River just days before the start of lockdown in March. But far from being lost without social contact, 27-year-old Suffield describes having her baby to herself, with just her partner Robert Brendan to keep them company, as "amazing".

Here the happy new mum discusses what it's been like having a baby during this strange time...

Has it been difficult having your first child just before lockdown?

Overall, I haven't hated having a baby in lockdown. We've been able to bond as a family without any distractions and, as a result, our baby is super-happy and confident. I truly think the way he's powering through his milestones and his (mostly!) calm demeanour is due to having us both here all the time, moving at our own little pace with absolutely no pressure.

Towards the end of my pregnancy, my biggest stress was potentially having visitors, especially unannounced, passing River around like he was a toy, and me trying to keep it sanitary and not over-stimulating for him. Lockdown eliminated that stress, even if it did add a fair few more.

He just about managed to sneak in his five-day check before (lockdown began on) March 23, but after that we didn't see a soul until his eight-week immunisations - no weigh-ins or home visits.

We've been left to fend for ourselves a lot, and I guess it's been a really great way of learning to trust our instincts.

Even now at three months old we still haven't been able to register his birth - so it's swings and roundabouts.

It's certainly not the usual fourth trimester experience, with no practical support from family or postnatal services. I'm looking forward to River being able to meet and bond with his wider family of course, but selfishly, it has been amazing having him all to ourselves.

Are you finding it better as lockdown eases?

I'm probably a little more nervous. The comfort of our home has been great for my partner Robert and I as well as River.

We're having to adapt to being on the go - it's definitely easier to deal with an explosive nappy at home! We'll also have to be cautious that River may be a little overwhelmed by meeting other people, so we'll be staggering visits once they're allowed, and asking people to keep their distance so he can get used to the idea first.

Were you scared about coronavirus?

We're sensible here - we wash our hands frequently and we have hand sanitiser when we're out. We've managed to keep a pretty good distance from people and we've got matching masks - River even has a matching bib, as the guidelines are that masks on children under two pose a bigger risk of suffocation. I've tried to lower our exposure substantially and, while it is of course a concern, we're keeping ourselves well out of harm's way and our risk low.

How did you prepare for the birth?

We took an antenatal class with Happy Parents, Happy Baby so I was feeling very well prepared.

I'm quite a realistic person and, although I had ideal scenarios in my mind, I knew there'd be a strong chance everything would go awry on the day. But River got here safe and sound, and we're all generally unscathed, so it was a positive experience.

Was the birth what you expected?

Not at all. I certainly didn't expect it to take as long as it did (64 hours!) and I wish I'd managed a bit more sleep in the first few hours - but you live and learn.

Did you put on much weight during the pregnancy?

I ate pretty much everything I could get my hands on, so even though I kept active throughout - I even did panto over Christmas as I entered the third trimester - I stacked on quite a bit.

I'm still amazed by how every woman is so different, from weight gain to bump size.

It's just further proof to me that we should all be proud of our bodies, no matter what shape or size, before during or after pregnancy.

Have you lost much weight?

I never think so, as clothes don't seem to fit me any better, but then I'll see a photo of myself from the first couple of weeks postpartum and I realise that even though it's happening slowly, it is happening.

Lockdown has affected my exercise plans a little, but we've found time to do some walking.

I still haven't managed to strike a good balance when it comes to snacking constantly, so I've got a way to go still, but I'm in no rush. I'm happy with taking it slowly - my whole body has changed inside and out, and I'm not expecting results overnight.

There's such a pressure to 'snap back' and that's physically impossible to do internally - you've got a lot of healing to do. I have massive respect for women who manage to tone up quickly and get back to their old selves, but in all honesty, it isn't the majority of us.

Are you positive about your post-pregnancy body?

I hope new mums can look at me and see whether you've lost, maintained, or gained weight, toned up or still have a saggy belly, it's so far down on the list of what's important. Your baby loves you no matter what and you're no more or less of a human or a parent because of your shape or size.

Being body positive is a complex thing - even I have days where I wish I fitted into a dress better, or I'll see a photo of myself with an enormous double chin and it can get me down.

But I'm always trying to remind myself that my self-worth shouldn't have anything to do with my appearance.

Are you breastfeeding?

I breastfed for three weeks, but got a triple whammy of blocked milk ducts, mastitis and very severe nipple trauma that hit me all at once, so we switched to the pump while I healed and, so far, haven't really looked back.

I'll occasionally feed River directly from the boob, but I've hit such a nice rhythm with pumping and it's really working for us as a family. I can share feeds with Robert, and I have a good idea of how much River is getting. Maybe I'll go back to exclusively breastfeeding one day, but right now, I'm very happy with being a pumper.

I'm just happy I get to spend so much time with Robert and River, while also reaching women online who find comfort in me sharing my honest experiences of motherhood.

Read Melissa Suffield's full birth story on her blog, F***! I'm A Parent

Belfast Telegraph