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Charities join forces to advocate better mental health services for infants

6 June 2016

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A new campaign has launched to promote good mental health in infancy as part of the firstnational Infant Mental Health Awareness Week.

The initiative, which is sponsored by Public Health England, the Royal College of Midwives and the charity Parent Infant Partnership (PIP) UK, among others, aims to lay the foundation for good mental health early, in infancy.

According to PIP, from birth to age 18 months, the brain makes around a million connections per second.

This means early experiences shape a baby’s brain development and have a significant impact on their mental and emotional health.

In a statement PIP said one-in-10 children need support or treatment for mental health problems

Viv Bennett, chief nurse at Public Health England, said: “Relationships matter; what happens to babies during pregnancy and the early weeks and months of life can have consequences throughout the life course into adulthood.

“Supporting new parents at this critical time is an investment in the future.”

An NSPCC report, Case for Change, released in light of the week, said that £17 billion is spent annually on “late intervention” mental healthcare.

The two greatest spends in that category are the costs of children who are taken into care and the consequences of domestic abuse.

Furthermore, the report said, “investing early to provide the right support to children, their parents and carers, could reap significant long-term rewards for society”.

However, mental health services are “virtually non-existent” for infants as mental healthcare does not usually start until the age of five.

To remedy this, the children’s charity called for the creation of multidisciplinary teams of professionals with health and social care expertise to give infants, especially those in care, a better chance at a stable home.

Jacque Gerard, the Royal College of Midwives’ director for England, gave her support by suggesting more midwives become involved in the mental health of those in their care.

She said: “Midwives are in an ideal position to support the mental health of mothers and their babies as they provide all round care from early pregnancy through to labour and the first days of the baby’s life.

“It is crucial that midwives appreciate the importance of infant mental health as they can explain to mothers how the emotional development of their baby will aid attachment.

“This in turn will enhance the mothers’ relationship with her baby in a positive way from birth and onwards.

“This early relationship will have an impact on the child for the rest of its life.”

However, another study, released by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) to support the awareness week, found that 32% of mothers in the UK experience difficulties forming a relationship with their baby.

Furthermore, 12% said they are embarrassed to speak to a health professional, GP or midwife about this.

Elizabeth Duff, NCT senior policy advisor, said: “The bond a baby has with its parents acts as a template that shapes the child’s emotions and relationships later in life so it’s a crucial process.

“Parents who don’t feel an instant connection with their new baby often experience strong feelings of guilt, shame and inadequacy.

“GPs, midwives and health visitors can also play an important role in promoting bonding and it is important that this subject is raised and parents are encouraged to speak up if there is a problem.”

Clair Rees, executive director of PIP UK, the charity behind the awareness week added: “When a baby has the opportunity to form a secure bond with their parent or caregiver, this can support their potential and ability to form healthy relationships throughout life.”