What is Infant Mental Health? Helpful Resources from SCAN’s Latest Allies in Prevention Coalition 

August 7, 2018

Earlier this summer, Leah Davidson from Arlington County Parent Infant Education Program led a very informative discussion about how professionals and parents can support an infant’s mental health at SCAN’s quarterly Allies in Prevention Coalition meeting. Representatives from DC Diaper Bank were also at the meeting and they shared exciting new partnership opportunities with members.

“Infant Mental Health refers to how well a child develops socially and emotionally from birth to three” explained Leah, who identified that a baby’s attachment style, temperament, and environment were key factors in the development of an infant’s social and emotional health and well-being.

Attachment refers to a child’s sense of safety and security when in the presence of a primary caregiver.

“There is no such thing as a baby. There’s always a baby and ‘somebody’,” Leah reminded participants as she explained the importance of helping parents–particularly mothers–develop attachment to their baby while pregnant. A mother can start building strong attachment during pregnancy with her baby by imagining and thinking about the following:

• Reflect on/imagine herself as a mother
• Realize that her baby is a separate and new person who only needs to be known, loved, and cared for
• Visualize her relationship with her baby as strong and protective

Some important questions professionals should ask new mothers after the arrival of their babies to help build attachment include:
• How is being a new mom feeling to you?
• How are you managing the sleep deprivation?
• Who are you going to for advice or to talk with when you are overwhelmed?
• What is your favorite part of your day with your baby?
• What does your baby seem to enjoy most OR when is your baby most calm and relaxed?

A mother’s ability to connect with her baby can also be influenced by her baby’s temperament, or in other words “the child’s approach to the world.” While some babies are naturally easy going and flexible, others are slower to warm up and more cautious, while some babies respond intensely to their world and can be oversensitive to stimulus or more active. Helping mothers to understand their babies’ temperament and respond to their babies’ needs can help foster stronger attachment between mother and baby, which supports brain development and ultimately, their mental health. Participants at the meeting watched this video, which demonstrates the value of responding to a baby’s needs to help build strong attachment: https://www.zerotothree.org/early-development/brain-development

In addition, SCAN shared a number of related resources, including:
Infant Mental Health fact sheets on SCAN’s Parent Resource Center
Soothing Your Baby fact sheets on SCAN’s Parent Resource Center

The Coalition’s next meeting is scheduled for September 25 and will focus on Understanding Children’s Behavior. Interested in attending? Contact Allyson Halverson, SCAN’s Public Education Manager, here.