Infant Mental Health Awareness Week is on 11-17 June 2018. We’ve put together some information for you here, and you can find more resources, including fact sheets with advice on sleep, crying and more, plus a podcast, on the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health Incorporated website.
Why is infant mental health so important?
Infant mental health refers to your baby’s social and emotional development up to the age of three.
A baby’s brain develops more quickly in the first 12 months than at any other time in their life. Their earliest experiences influence their brain development, which makes a difference to their long-term mental and emotional health.
Secure, trusting relationships between infants and their parents and caregivers therefore creates a strong foundation for their future development. If we are nurturing and responsive to our babies in their first three years of life, they’re more likely to develop secure attachments and become confident, independent adults.
What’s harmful to your baby’s mental health?
All parents make mistakes, and babies can handle this in a loving environment, but problems that are definitely harmful to infants include:
● high levels of stress at home
● unpredictability, which can be due to a parent’s substance abuse or a parent who is too unwell mentally or physically to be able to respond to the infant
● direct abuse or hearing/witnessing domestic violence
● being ignored frequently at home.
If you are experiencing any of these difficulties at home, talk to your doctor as soon as you can.
Signs you need help
Perinatal depression and anxiety (PNDA) is common and can affect your ability to care for your child. It can be hard to distinguish PNDA from the usual effects of sleep deprivation and adjustment after having a baby, but common symptoms include:
● a noticeable change in your mood for two weeks or more while you’re pregnant or in the first four to six weeks after your baby’s birth – you may feel very sad, low or worried most of time
● changes to your eating and sleeping routines (too much or too little)
● changes to your normal energy levels
● a desire to withdraw into yourself
● feeling “stuck” with your thoughts and feelings, and becoming so preoccupied that you can’t function like you used to.
Talk to your GP if you are struggling – you’re not alone and help is available.
Signs your baby needs help
All babies have different temperaments but there are signs to watch for in terms of your baby’s mental health.
Make an appointment to see your GP if your baby is:
● crying excessively
● not growing as well as you’d expect
● going backwards in some skills they’ve learned
● not responding happily to you
● not playing, or only playing repetitively
● not making eye contact with you
● not getting upset when you’d expect them to
● not feeling comforted by you (after the first couple of months).
Remember to listen to your intuition as a parent or caregiver – if you have any concerns at all it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor.
Here’a beautiful letter shared by Children’s Health Queensland & Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital.