Infant Mental Health Awareness Week Highlights Early Trauma

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week Highlights Early Trauma

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Infant Mental Health Awareness Week (IMHAW 13th-19th June) sees professionals, policy makers and parents unite globally to raise a greater understanding about why giving every baby the best possible start is vital to their life chances.

In Melbourne, the Tweddle Foundation is presenting a sold-out seminar featuring leading experts in the fields of infant trauma, attachment, and adversity, to discuss the IMHAW theme ‘Understanding Early Trauma’. International and local presenters include Professor Louise Newman AM, Psychologist Colby Pearce, Gunditjmara woman Annette Vickery Dr Nicole Milburn, and virtual presentations by Dr Julie A Larrieu PhD and Dr Joy Osofsky PhD.

An All Too Common View of Infant Mental Health

According to the World Association for Infant Mental Health, an all-too-common view is that the baby is ‘too small to really understand or to remember’ and therefore the baby’s perspective is often not appreciated by health professionals and even by parents.

Dr Nicole Milburn, Chair of the Tweddle Foundation and Chair of the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health, said that the recent COVID-19 pandemic saw expectant and new parents navigating pregnancy, birth, and early parenthood in incredibly stressful circumstances, with reduced access to family supports.

The baby blind-spot

‘During Infant Mental Health Awareness Week, we become an even louder advocates for infants.’ said Dr Milburn. ‘We need to increase awareness of the baby blind-spot, a term that highlights that the focus on child mental health, often overlooks infancy. Science shows us that the earliest days, months, and years are optimal for laying the foundations for strong mental and physical health for life.’

The experiences we have in the earliest years of our lives impact the development of our brains. Experiencing early trauma, such as exposure to family violence, can have a significant impact on brain development, potentially leaving serious and lasting consequences. This can create difficulties for babies and toddlers, as well as have a negative influence into their adult years. Dr Milburn added that this impact was not inevitable and that secure relationships with parents and care-givers can reduce stress caused by trauma and limit the long-term effect on the baby’s development.

Lead author of the First Thousand Days report, Dr Tim Moore, said ‘Children need to feel calm, safe, and protected. When this attachment process is interrupted, the child’s brain places an emphasis on developing neuronal pathways that are associated with survival, before developing those that are essential to future learning and growth.’

Improving the mental health and resilience of parents

Improving the mental health and resilience of parents can improve a baby or toddler’s ability to cope.  It is important that early intervention services like Tweddle can build the confidence and skills of parents which can change the life trajectory of vulnerable babies, toddlers, and their families.

Now more than ever, considering the impacts of the pandemic, we are encouraging everyone to think and talk about infant mental health and the special developmental needs of babies’ and toddlers’ mental health and how these needs can be met. Infant mental health is a social problem we can all help address as a community.

You can read more about Infant Mental Health and the first 1000 days through the following links.

Centre for Community Child Health : Strong Foundations: Getting it Right in the First 1000 Days (rch.org.au)

In focus: Infant and toddler mental health – Emerging Minds

About Infant Mental Health – Tweddle

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week at Tweddle
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