Thinking about how to manage and support infant mental health
Mums, dads, main carers –
Your world may feel like it has suddenly changed. Sometimes it can be helpful to slow down a little and take some time to get to know your baby better.
If you are feeling anxious and worrying about things, pause for a moment and try wondering about what your baby might be thinking or feeling. Remember that their experience may be very different from yours. Your baby is very good at being focused on the now. Sometimes this may help us too. It can take our minds off worrying about what might happen in the future. Spend a little time trying to see the world through your baby’s eyes. Take time to breathe, in particular take a slow breath out, it helps you feel calmer. Your baby is sensitive to how you are feeling and if you are calmer that can help your baby too.
From birth, babies are born ready to relate.
Your baby needs to build a relationship with you, and get to know you and you them, so you both grow together. Take some time to notice what your baby is feeling – by looking at their expressions and body posture. Are they relaxed? Looking happy? Or frustrated? What could you do to show you understand?
When babies show us they are ready to relate (engage) they will have bright eyes – with a new baby, just looking into one another’s eyes is really good for you both. This will release lots of positive hormones in both of your bodies and can help you both feel in tune and relaxed. Your baby will love the sound of your voice! Sing to your baby, they will even recognise songs you sang before they were born. You will notice your baby loves it when you copy their expressions – try making faces with your baby.
As your baby gets a bit older, share simple games like peek- a- boo, or action songs.
Laughter helps your brain feel safer. Find some time to share joy with your baby, in a simple way. Look out for their signs (cues) that they are ready to play, and also ready to stop or have had enough. Sometimes your baby enjoys a game but then after a while they will need a break.
Chat to your baby about what you see and what’s going on. They will engage with the sound of your voice and it helps them learn to understand you.
The more you are able to be in tune with your baby, the easier time will be to spend together. Babies don’t always fit into routines, however if you are able to enjoy time with them they can become your companion and you can both learn to fit into each other’s lives.
Doing every day things together can help feelings of loneliness, you are together. Try having a bath together – skin to skin is great for you both, the warm water is relaxing too, splashing is also fun!
Share feeding times – it can be relaxing for both of you. Take time to enjoy these moments with your baby. If your baby is over 6 months, eat together – you can share tastes of foods and your baby will enjoy exploring food, in particular how it feels, and they will be learning lots too.
Your older baby can do much more but they will still enjoy these things. Going back to the familiar things, which help calm a baby, will calm an older child too. Babies and young children enjoy repetitive games, rhythms, and familiar things such as toys or things you do together. There is no need for lots of toys or busy interactions, which are less easy to keep up now anyway. For example, with an empty cardboard box, hide a toy in it, and enjoy the surprise of finding it: babies can enjoy this again and again and again. Quiet times are important too, this helps your child process all the things they are taking in. When you need to get on with daily tasks, see if there are simple ways to help your child join in – let them try sweeping, or taking things out of the washing machine, or wiping things with a cloth. Children learn by copying the things you do.
Try this with your baby or child:
This exercise will help you learn about and appreciate your own individual baby, help you relax with your baby and learn to respond sensitively to your baby.
Try to build the exercise into each week, 5-10 minutes a day, when you are with your baby:
- Get onto the floor or the bed with your baby and watch your baby.
- Let your baby take the lead/initiative.
- You follow your baby’s lead.
- Let your baby explore and you respond to them.
- If your baby asks for some help then do so, but be careful not to start leading.
- A young baby may gaze at your face, you may watch them back, perhaps your baby pulls a face and you could respond by doing the same.
- An older baby may play with some toys, you would respond by playing too but by following their lead and doing as they have done – dropping a ball, putting a piece of cloth in a tub, examining a soft toy.
- Be interested in what they are doing, watch how they may communicate with you and respond to them.
When you are trying to focus on your baby, a worrying thought pops into your head, just notice it and then try to re-focus back on your baby.
After this time think about what you noticed about your baby – what did they do? How did they communicate with you? What did you do? How did they react? What might have been going on in their mind?
Notice that you do not have to keep your baby entertained by initiating things to do, they enjoy you responding to them. You may find this slows things down and you get to understand more about your baby’s pace.
Take time to stay connected to family and friends who you feel supported by. Share your concerns but also have moments when you can talk with them about lighter subjects. Having these moments can help you keep the energy you need to care for your baby.
If you have concerns about your mental well-being make sure you ask for the help you need. Babies need their caregiver to be well. Remember to call your SMABS worker for support for you and for your relationship with your baby: 01274 221180. If you feel frustrated or find it difficult to cope with your baby or toddler, you can also speak to your Health Visitor: 01274 221223.
Have a look on the 0-19 Healthy Lives brighter Futures website, there is lots of useful information here: www.betterliveshealthyfuturesbw.nhs.uk
The best gift for your child is time shared together with you.