The relationship between an infant and their parents and carers is the most significant influence on their development and is intrinsically connected to good infant mental health.
Parents and carers who look after themselves are more likely to be available and able to meet the needs of their infants.
This capacity and commitment to look after one’s own physical and mental health is a protective factor that can promote positive mental health in infants.
Self-care and going “back to the basics”
Becoming a parent or carer and learning to care for a growing infant is both an exciting and challenging journey. It is also a time of important transition with changing rhythms, roles and responsibilities for every family member.
Self-care and ‘going back to the basics’ is also important because it helps parents and carers maintain positive family relationships, which is a key protective factor that can reduce the risk of infants developing mental health issues.
Supporting parents and carers to look after themselves
Health and community professionals can play a positive role in supporting parents and carers to look after their own mental health.
Here are four ways health and community professionals can support parents and carers to engage in self-care:
1. Encourage parents and carers to go “back to the basics”
Going “back to the basics” means getting parents and carers to focus on things like eating healthy, good quality food, exercising and taking time to relax and do things they enjoy. A healthy diet creates a nourished body and mind and sustains high performance in everyday life. It also reduces the risk of getting sick. A healthy diet includes eating a balanced amount of fruit, vegetables, proteins and grains, eating breakfast every day and drinking plenty of water. Being physically active regularly increases energy levels, reduces stress and promotes health. When parents and carers have time to relax and do things they enjoy, this allows them to be happier and less stressed when with their family. Health and community professionals may be able to support parents and carers to find ways to do this within the context of their particular family situation.
2. Provide parents and carers with relevant information and resources
Health and community professionals can also play a key role in ensuring parents and carers understand the positive impacts that self-care can have on infant mental health. This can include providing information on infant mental health, parenting and strategies to deal with anxiety and family conflict. This may in turn reduce anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed.
3. Help parents and carers nurture their own relationships
It’s important for parents and carers to build positive relationships with other adults. Experiencing positive relationships with other adults provides support from people who are trusted, respected and safe. Infants benefit when they see their parents and carers interacting positively with other adults. Health and community professionals can help parents and carers by facilitating open and regular communication and dialogue, encouraging joint problem solving and working together when making important decisions, and finding ways to share and express their frustrations and concerns.
4. Be a referral point
Health and community professionals are often the first point of contact for many parents and carers who are concerned about their infant’s mental health and wellbeing. It’s vital that professionals are able to provide parents and carers with links to local mental health supports and specialist services, taking into account factors such as cultural backgrounds and accessibility constraints such as transport and cost.
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