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There’s no such thing as Infant Mental Health

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It’s interesting when I speak with others about the work I do, and their faces look quizzingly at me when talk about providing mental health services to infants and children.

“But babies don’t have anything to worry about! Why are you counselling babies? And who on earth can hold a decent conversation with a 2 year old that doesn’t end in a tantrum or consist entirely of playing dolls/cars?”

I enjoy these conversations, as it provides an opportunity for someone to learn about this incredibly important, and largely overseen area.

Some facts about Perinatal, Infant, and Early Childhood Mental Health:
• Perinatal and Infant Mental Health go hand in hand to describe the mental health and emotional wellbeing of women, their infants, partners, and families. This includes DADS 
• To support the infant and young child to develop the capacity for experiencing, expressing, and regulating emotions; forming close and secure relationships; and exploring the environment to enhance learning
• It is typically the period from conception to about 3 years after the end of the pregnancy.
• It is important to note that this area can cover parents who have also lost a child, including through termination, miscarriage, and stillbirth.
• The most common mental health concerns for this group are anxiety and depression
• The mental health and wellbeing of parents is critically important to the emotional and physical development of the infant. Untreated concerns have significant impacts on the parents, infant, and whole family
• Treatment is available and can be highly effective. This ranges from counselling to medication, and extra supports from health professionals where necessary

What psychological support can look like for families seeking help:
• Working directly with the parent/s to support their wellbeing
• Observe, role model, coach, and provide feedback around supporting their infant/child
• Be part of targeted groups and workshops, such as Circle of Security, Bringing Up Great Kids
• Supporting the child (if older) directly to work through their areas of difficulty. This is done through the use of games, play, and child-led interests
• This is all done in a strengths-based, collaborative, warm, engaging and supportive space

Some tips for supporting your mental health and wellbeing during this period:
1. A good routine goes a long way. This allows you and your child to have a certain level of certainty about your day
2. Fuelling your body with healthy meals. This will give you the right type of energy needed to be a very busy mum/dad
3. Sleep, rest, and nap at every available opportunity. Your body and brain need many times to re-energise and re-cooperate
4. Enjoyable physical activity. This can be a simple stroll with bub, heading to the playground and playing ‘chasy’, yoga, or going for a swim
5. Using techniques to de-stress. This can be relaxation training, meditation, or mindfulness
6. Doing something ‘selfish’ each day. This means setting time aside where you can take a breather and do something special. This could be as simple as reading a chapter in a good book, looking through a magazine, catching up on last night’s episode, or calling a friend
7. Vent and debrief. It can feel so good to just talk about everything happening, and have someone be a ‘soundboard’ for you. Problem solving with a trusted person can have wonderful positive outcomes
8. Adult time. Some give and take with you nurturing your partner, but also them providing some TLC for you too. We tend to forget or not have enough time for other halves, however making the effort is essential
9. Delegate. Involve your partner or family members in the daily care of your child
10. Develop a support network. It can be hard to ask for help, but it can be even harder accepting help too. Start to build a community around you

“There is no such thing as a baby. There is only a baby and someone.”
Donald Winnicott

Adapted from Children’s Health Queensland

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