From June 10-14 we're talking infant mental health and sending the message out that it's never too late to seek help.

Babies are amazing!

- So says Peter Toolan, Clinical Lead with our NEWPIP (Newcastle Infant Partnership) project.

"They arrive pre-programmed to adapt to their emotional environment - which means their parents' love and care. If this emotional environment is an unhappy or unstable one, the baby will adapt to that, causing potentially lifelong problems and missed opportunities."

There are myriad reasons why the bonding process between caregiver and infant might be interrupted. A traumatic birth or post-traumatic stress perhaps caused by losing a baby, sometimes many years earlier, are recognised examples.

'Multiple factors to consider'

"The reasons can be multiple and are very often complex," Peter explains. "If you took post-natal depression as just one of the causes - that can be both someone with a history of depression or there could be difficulties in relationships or domestic violence that have contributed to that. So even in one area of difficulty there can be multiple factors to consider.

"Other factors can be to do with the environment, to do with stresses on the parent-infant relationship. There can be social problems in addition to the fact that the mother might have had a very poor history herself of being parented."

'Unique and special'

"As Selma Fraiberg's pioneering paper 'Ghosts in the Nursery'* demonstrates, there's very often an inter-generational repetition of difficulties. So sometimes it's important to just be curious about a parent's own history and their memories of their own childhood in order to help link things up and look at some of the reasons behind the present difficulties."

NEWPIP's team of specialists work sensitively with both the caregiver - usually the mother - and the baby together - as Peter says "to rekindle a sense that she can be in touch with her baby and that her baby needs her more than anyone else in the world and to appreciate how unique and special that relationship is.

It's really a matter of allowing an organic process to get back on the tracks again when for some reason, sometimes due to trauma, sometimes depression, it has been knocked off the tracks.

*Ghosts in the Nursery is one of the pioneering papers published in the handbook for the NEWPIP - Newcastle Infant Mental Health Course that is delivered on behalf of Children North East. It's an intensive course for professionals working to promote infant mental health and development. For details of how to register, contact [email protected]

Here Peter Toolan explains the pioneering approach they use at NEWPIP:

Service manager at NEWPIP, Lesley Hutchinson, underlines the importance of seeking help, no matter how far in the past you may have experienced difficulties.

As we raise the importance of the social and emotional development of babies during the first two years of their life during Infant Mental Health week, we want to let parents know that it is never too late to ask for support. Don't feel that you have to struggle on alone, feeling guilty or ashamed that you're finding things difficult. Reach out and speak to someone you trust - be that family, a friend, a health visitor, midwife or GP - and tell them how you are feeling. There is support out there to help you get through difficult times.

The Association for Infant Mental Health (AIMH) has as its theme this week, 'Difficult Beginnings'. Professor Jane Barlow, AIMH (UK) President explains that whilst the birth of a baby can be an exciting time for the whole family, many pregnant women and their partners face difficulties at some point either during their pregnancy or following the birth.

Support available

"Such difficulties can be hard to talk about precisely because of the expectation that this is a joyous period and because couples worry that admitting to problems may mean that they are seen to be inadequate parents. We have chosen to focus this Infant Mental Health Awareness Week on the topic of difficult beginnings because pre and post birth is an important time for the baby's social and emotional development and parents are central in  helping babies to develop optimally.

"We wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some of the difficulties that can be experienced, the way in which such difficulties could affect the infant and to draw attention to the different sorts of support that are now available to help parents and babies who may be experiencing difficult beginnings." 

Grace's story

Mother and baby

"While I was pregnant, I didn’t bond or love my bump out of fear of losing Harry."

Read how our NEWPIP Service helped Grace after she gave birth to her second son.

Grace's Story

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