Young mumMany prominent parenting and children’s organisations have joined with the charity Parent Infant Partnership (PIP) UK to launch the UK’s first national Infant Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from 6-10 June.

A new campaign, ‘Building Babies’ Minds’, has been launched which seeks to highlight the importance of laying the foundation of the mind for good mental health in infancy. Events are taking place across the country to raise awareness and to support parents in their job of getting their babies started on the path to good mental health, which begins for everyone in infancy.

From birth to age 18 months, it has been calculated that connections in the brain are created at around a rate of a million per second. The earliest experiences shape a baby’s brain development, and have a significant impact on that baby’s mental and emotional health. The importance is highlighted in this quote from Harvard University’s National Scientific Council on the Developing Child: “New scientific advances are showing the crucial importance of [these] foundation years as a springboard for neuro-cognitive development, life-long health and wellbeing and socioeconomic success.”

It also makes sense to invest in the first 1001 days (conception to age 2) from an economic perspective as the long-term savings that can be generated are considerable. The alternative approach – waiting to address the mental health problems of older children and adults down the road, which entails a vacuum of wellbeing in our families, schools and workplaces – is expensive for society.

Primary sponsors of the week include Public Health England, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) the Institute of Health Visiting, the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors’ Association, the Association for Infant Mental Health, and Zero to Three.

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. Confident, sensitive, attuned parenting promotes strong and secure attachment between parents and infants which in turn enables babies to learn to manage their emotions and builds resilience for life.”

Jacque Gerard, RCM director for England, 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.”

Dr Cheryll Adams, executive director of the Institute of Health Visiting, added: “It is the mental health of infants that assures the mental, social and physical health of our society. There can therefore be no better public health investment. By directing more professional time to supporting all new parents during the critical early years the benefits, both fiscal and to the health of our society, would be felt by all.”

Clair Rees, executive director of PIP UK said: “Good mental health begins in early childhood. 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.”

During the week more than 100 organisations will shine a spotlight on why emphasis on the first 1001 days of a child’s life matters, and the importance of infant mental health as a positive, preventative public health strategy for future generations.

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