Events in early life, especially those experienced with strong emotion, can and do remain an influence throughout our lives and are difficult to erase. Early precognitive emotions continue to play out in later life.
(Le Doux 1993)
Parent Infant Partnership (PIP) UK launched Infant Mental Health week (6-10 June 2016). This was in conjunction with the work of the 1001 Critical Days campaign and in partnership with other coalition members across the country to raise a greater awareness of the importance of social and emotional wellbeing for babies. This is such an important campaign because the mental health and emotional wellbeing of infants impacts on the long term outcomes for families and communities.
The way a child is cared for effects every aspect of their development. Researchers believe that an infant has critical and sensitive windows of brain development (Schore), that allow the building of blocks that prepare us for life as an adult. It is important therefore that infants are cared for in a way that enables them to build good mental health and emotional wellbeing in childhood, that then will extend into later life.
‘Nature and nurture’ are both needed for good development, early experiences change the structure of an infants developing brain. Parenting that supports good brain development is so important. However this can be a challenge. Many parents face difficult circumstances, from mental health issues, to social problems, to health and economical inequalities. We must support parents to care for their infants in ways that protect their emotional wellbeing.
One way we can start is by helping parents lay good foundations in pregnancy. Bonding with their baby in pregnancy and providing support and information around what to expect in pregnancy and birth can help reduce maternal fears and reduce the effects that stress can have on a developing infant. Often perinatal mental health starts here and those who care for pregnant women and their partners play an important role in the positive start for a new family.
Helping parents to see their babies as individuals in their own right and helping them parent in away that shows empathy and respect supports the kind of relationships their infants will build in later life.
The ability to form healthy relationships is affected by the infants emotional development in the early days. Helping parents to have good positive relationships with their infants enables the building of healthy relationships into adulthood.
Of course for infants to have healthy mentally health, it means that their carers also need healthy mental health. The importance of parent – child relationships cannot be over stated. Supporting parents to care for their own mental health is vital. For parents who have a mental health disorder, specialist help and support is critical if we are to safeguard the wellbeing of the family but also the future of the infants in the family.
Are we doing enough?
When it comes to mental health are we doing enough in the UK to protect the emotional wellbeing of mothers and their infants? Sadly this has often been neglected and while much emphasis has been placed on the physical care/needs of mothers and infants, sadly the emotional needs have for too long been over-looked.
In recent times the need to support infant mental health has been highlighted and the government has promised to increase funding to support work in this area. The launch of the 1001 critical days campaign was part of the drive to raise the importance of supporting families and early infant emotional wellbeing. Working together as individual health care workers and as organisations we can make a difference.
Yes by investing in our infant’s mental health, we invest in our futures. Giving families the tools to help build healthy relationships is so important. It impacts the lives of families, the communities they live in and the prospects of us all. Investment needs to be finically, but also by polices and in law. It needs to be on an emotional level too, because we care about families and their futures.
So we can all ask ourselves. “Are we a life chances champion?” We can all play our part to help families support their infants and toddlers to build a good foundation that will protect their emotional wellbeing and support their mental health both now and for the future. So if you work with families take a look this week at all the events, twitter chats and conversations that are happening, get involved and share your ideas. If you are a family share your stories of what has made a difference to you and what more can be done to make sure that infant mental health is a priority for all.
So why does Infant mental health matter?