KITCHENER -- It’s a real thing: the "fourth trimester" is an important time of transition for new moms, but a lack of support or resources throughout the weeks and months after giving birth can make it challenging for some families to make sure that their babies are getting a healthy start.

That’s where a provincially-funded program hopes to come in and help.

The Healthy Babies Healthy Children program offers families resources through public health units in partnership with local hospitals.

“Prior to the pandemic we would offer the Healthy Babies Healthy Children screen through bedside visits at the hospital after families would have their babies,” said Sue Laverty, a public health nurse with the Region of Waterloo.

“So obviously we’re no longer in the hospital doing those [screens]. That means all of those calls are followed up through our home offices with families. So that’s a big shift to not meet with people face to face.”

The COVID-19 pandemic means bedside visits are now cold calls.

“We’re calling, we’re introducing ourselves and building rapport over the phone and then trying to determine with the family if there’s more supports that they need,” the nurse explained.

Resources are offered for breastfeeding, the child’s growth and development, mental health, housing or financial needs.

“There’s a whole number of social determinants that we’re screening for when we meet with families,” she said.

Most of that support, however, including breastfeeding, is being offered virtually during the pandemic. One thing that hasn’t changed, Laverty said, is the need for support.

“Babies are still being born at the same pace that they were prior to the pandemic and so our goal with the Healthy Babies Healthy Children screen is to make contact with as many families within the region as we can,” she said.

The same number of babies is being born and the same number of calls is being made, but the number of staff members there to make them has gone down.

The team of 12 public health nurses handling visits and calls is now a team of seven, as resources and staff are redeployed to handle calls related to COVID-19.

Laverty said they make multiple attempts to connect with families over the phone, but it’s not always easy.

“Sometimes people aren’t answering their phone because it comes up as private caller," she explained.

“When we are reaching families we’re finding that they’re very receptive to chatting on the phone and wanting to connect with services and find out what’s available in light of the pandemic.”

New parents are worried about when they’ll be able to see their family doctor or whether their baby could be at risk of being exposed to the virus, but Laverty said one of the biggest concerns is the feeling of isolation.

“Sadness at not being able to have the usual people stopping by to see them and to meet their baby and just really having to adapt to a different way of celebrating and connecting with supports,” she said.

The Healthy Babies Healthy Children program offers resources to mothers during pregnancy and after birth until the child’s transition to school.

The part Laverty said she misses the most is being able to visit families in their own living environments.

“What we have been told is that this is our new normal for now,” said Laverty.

“We’ve worked really hard to encourage families in our ongoing program to connect virtually and actually we’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well those virtual visits can work.”