Here at the INFANT Research Centre, we specialise in the science of babies brains!
The brain develops more in the first five years than at any other stage of our life. The first 1,000 days of life are vital as the brain and biological pathways formed during this time can affect physical and mental health for the rest of a babies life.
During pregnancy and infancy, it is obvious how physically reliant babies are on their parents and caregivers. They are socially and emotionally connected to us in so many fascinating ways. The way we interact with babies and infants shapes their brain development. Infant Mental Health is the term used to describe the ability of a child to form close relationships with those around them like mum and dad, siblings and grandparents, to understand and express their emotions and to explore and learn about their environment around them. When one hears the phrase ‘infant mental health’, there may be a tendency to be concerned that is it connected with mental illness and be puzzled as to how the term mental health could be associated with the stage of infancy.
Babies are like scientists, exploring the world around them by sending out messages to see what happens, how things work, and where they fit in! They serve the ball and wait for us to return it. ‘The ball’ might be a cry, a smile, eye contact, a word, or stretched out arms. For our ‘serve’ we can offer physical touch and comfort, calm tone of voice, eye contact, smiles, repeated words, and praise. When we respond with love, calmness, and positivity, meeting their needs, we enable them to form attachments, develop trust, and confidence in us as their parent/caregiver.
Babies need love, secure relationships, to feel connected, in order to thrive. They will only learn how to be part of happy relationships by experiencing them: they learn to love by being loved.
Here are some simple everyday things that parents and caregivers can do to nurture the mental health and wellbeing of babies.
- Talk with your child constantly
- Create a healthy environment
- Ensure your child feels heard
- Playtime is vital
- Expose them to new settings and people