7th June 2021
Infant Mental Health Awareness week is 7-13 June. As Health Visitors, we can help promote infant mental health by thinking about “the voice of the infant” and how we recognise what the baby is telling us.
I have worked as a Specialist Health Visitor within infant mental health services for the past six years. This has given me the opportunity to think in real depth about how infants experience their environment in the first 1001 days of life, a ‘critical’ time when their brains are developing rapidly(1). It has also provided a chance for me to reflect on my work as a health visitor and the skills that we all bring as health visitors to recognising the Voice of Infants. We are in a unique position because of our access to all families as part of the universal offer and our understanding of how babies develop. It is important that we have access to training to enhance our existing skills and act as baby translators: sharing our understanding of infants and the relationships they have with their caregivers.
If infants could talk, what would they say?
Every contact we have with a family is an opportunity to learn more about the parent-infant relationship, allowing us to build a picture of the infant’s lived experience. What would they say if they could articulate what is going on around them?
- “I really like it when you smile at me!”
- “I feel scared when I hear shouting!”
- “I need to take a break from playing!”
- “I feel lonely and want a cuddle!”
Well, the reality is that infants can and do tell us what they need all the time. We just need to know where to look and how to understand what we are seeing.
As health visitors, we are fluent in ‘baby language’ – observing behaviour and interactions to understand the Voice of the Infant.
Babies are born ready to relate. They are sociable and have innate behaviours that make them want to, and able to, communicate(2). In addition, we know that the response of the adults around them is key to their emotional and social development(3). Observing how infants interact with their parents during routine contacts helps us to identify if parents are struggling to understand the needs of their infants and intervene early. I feel passionate about encouraging health visitors to observe infants and to routinely ask their families about the relationships they have with their infants:
- “What do you enjoy the most about being with your baby?”
- “What do you find difficult about your relationship with your baby?”
For me, the opportunity to connect with families and help them to learn their baby’s language is an essential part of early intervention.
The Little Minds Matter: Bradford Infant Mental Health Service is hosting an event as part of #IMHAW21 on Wednesday 9 June at 11:30am on Zoom. The session What is the baby telling us? Recognising the Voice of the Infant. Tickets, Wed 9 Jun 2021 at 11:30 | Eventbrite can be booked by following the link.
About Little Minds Matter
The Little Minds Matter: Bradford Infant Mental Health Service is a Better Start Bradford project, delivered by Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust. We are funded by The National Lottery Community Fund, with additional funding from the Reducing Inequalities in City programme led by the Bradford District and Craven Clinical Commissioning Group.
- Government publishes review to improve babies’ and children’s healthy development – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- Murray, Lynne. Andrews, Liz. (2000). The Social Baby: Understanding Babies’ Communication from Birth. CP Publishing.
- Belsky J, De Haan M. (2011) Annual research review: parenting and children’s development. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 52(4):409–428.
Lorraine Ingram, Specialist Health Visitor – Infant Mental Health, Little Minds Matter: Bradford Infant Mental Health Service.