Infant Mental Health Awareness Week

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2023

Tweddle has been celebrating Infant Mental Awareness Week (IMHAW) since its genesis in 2016. The global IMHAW goal is to raise a greater understanding for policy makers, professionals and parents about why giving every baby the best possible start matters to their life chances.

The 2023 theme is Bonding Before Birth and Beyond. Tweddle’s work in the first thousand days highlights the critical importance of of bonding.

The ‘first thousand days’ refers to the period of development from conception to age 2. New research highlights the incredible window of opportunity that exists during this rapid period of infant development, especially brain architecture, life-long mental health and relationships.

The health and well-being of both parents prior to conception have a significant impact on the embryo’s development right from the start. You can read more about Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2023 here.

Tweddle Infant Mental health Awareness Week

Tweddle celebrates Infant Mental Health Awareness Week

What is Infant Mental Health Awareness Week? 

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week takes place globally from the 13th – 19th June. The 2022 theme is ‘Understanding Early Trauma’. Infant mental health is an often overlooked and misunderstood subject. Infant Mental Health Awareness Week provides an opportunity to discuss the importance of babies’ mental health as well as the issues that affect it.

Why Understanding Early Trauma? 

The experiences we have in the earliest years of our lives impact the development of our brains. Experiencing trauma, such as exposure to domestic abuse, in the earliest years can have a significant impact on brain development, potentially leaving serious and lasting consequences that can create difficulties for the child into their adult years. This is not inevitable.

Secure relationships with parents and carers can reduce stress caused by trauma and limit the long term impact it has on the baby’s development.

Tweddle’s Infant Mental Health Awareness Week event 2022

The Tweddle Foundation’s ‘Understanding Early Trauma’ Seminar brought together leaders in the field of trauma, attachment, and ACEs. Through presentations and a panel discussion, guest speakers explored how exposure to trauma in the earliest years can have a significant impact on brain development, potentially leaving serious and lasting consequences that can create difficulties for children into their adult years. Speakers explored how the buffering impacts of caring relationships can change the trajectory of a child’s life with the support of health professionals, parents and carers.

Professor Louise Newman AM Seminar Keynote speaker and panelist, is a Professorial Fellow in Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne, and Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at Newcastle University and Monash University. She has held senior leadership positions in mental health training and research, including director of the NSW Institute of Psychiatry, and director of the Monash University Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology, and she is currently Director of the Melbourne University BEAR (Building Early Attachment and Resilience) research unit. She is recognised as Australia’s leading researcher in the areas of infant and early child development, disturbances of early parenting, and parent–infant interventions.

Colby Pearce – Seminar presenter and panelist, is a practicing Clinical Psychologist with twenty-seven years’ experience working with children and young people recovering from abuse and neglect. He is also an author and educator in trauma-informed, therapeutic caregiving. Colby’s programs are implemented in Australia and Ireland, and he is well-known for his practical and accessible guidance for caregivers and professionals alike.

Annette Vickery – Seminar Panelist, is a proud Gunditjmara woman with extensive experience across public, private and community sectors. Annette is a signatory to the Aboriginal Justice Agreement Phase 4, an ambassador for the Ngaga-dji (Hear Me) report and chairperson of the Western Metropolitan Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee. She has an active interest in social justice and human rights and is a lecturer at Victoria University on the social determinants of Aboriginal Health.

Dr Julie A Larrieu PhD – Virtual Presentation Dr Julie A Larrieu PhD is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Director, Division of Clinical Psychology, Tulane University School of Medicine. Dr Larrieu’s clinical and research interests focus on infant mental health. Her work deals with abuse and neglect of infants and toddlers, including identifying risk factors for abuse, as well as predictors of successful treatment for parents who have maltreated their children. She provides training in infant mental health to professionals and to public health nurses who work with a variety of at-risk families.

Dr Joy Osofsky PhD –  Virtual Presentation Paul J. Ramsay Endowed Chair of Psychiatry and Barbara Lemann Professor of Child Welfare at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans and Director of the Harris Center for Infant Mental Health Center. She is a board member and Past President of ZERO TO THREE. Dr. Osofsky is past president of the World Association for Infant Mental Health and has published widely and authored or edited seven books on trauma in the lives of children. She serves as Clinical Consultant on the Leadership team for the ZERO TO THREE Safe Babies Court Program and as the Chair of the Program Committee Workgroup for ZERO TO THREE’s Annual Conference.

Dr Nicole Milburn – Panel Facilitator Dr Nicole Milburn is Chair of the Tweddle Foundation, Chair of the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health, Private Practice Clinical Psychologist and Infant Mental Health Consultant.

A Baby Blindspot – 2021 IMHAW

The goal of this year’s IMHAW theme is to encourage everyone working in children and young people’s mental health policies, strategies and services to think about and include babies. Children and young people’s mental health should refer to the mental health of all children from 0-18 and beyond, but too often it is focussed on older children. There is a “baby blindspot”. We are encouraging everyone to think and talk about infant, children and young people’s mental health, and to consider how babies’ mental health needs can be met.

We will be using the hashtags #IMHAW21 and #IncludingInfants

AAIMH and Tweddle Foundation Chair Dr Nicole Milburn speaks with Parent Infant Foundation Head of Policy and Campaigning Sally Hogg about Infant Mental Health.

What is Infant Mental Health?

Seeing The World Through Babies’ Eyes at Tweddle – Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2020

Any parent or carer with a baby is experiencing the world like never before in our lifetime. Infant Mental Health Awareness Week (8th – 14th June) has the theme; 20:20 vision – seeing the world through babies’ eyes. In the midst of a pandemic, Tweddle is asking how infants might be seeing the world right now and how can we all help.

Infant Mental Health Awareness invites government, industry, community and families to consider the distinct needs of babies and toddlers. It highlights the need for investment in services like Tweddle, who strengthen relationships between parents and babies in the critical first 1000 days.

We know that babies and toddlers rely on their carers for security in stressful times. COVID has seen parents, many of them first time mums and dads, struggle with conflict, sadness, job loss and loneliness without the expected support of social, community and family networks.

For parents, anxiety in response to COVID-19 may bring up specific memories and a heightened sense of vulnerability. Babies and toddlers may sense changes in their parents’ stress levels. Some will respond to their changing environment through cues such as distress, unsettled behaviour, withdrawal, hitting or sleeplessness.

Babies may be experiencing parents who are unresponsive, scared or frightening. Some babies born during COVID-19 are experiencing their parents and carers with faces obscured by masks.

Scientific research informs us that babies learn a lot about the world and relationships through facial expressions. This includes learning about what responses they prompt when they smile, cry or yawn. Mirroring of infant facial gestures is central to the development of a baby’s neural matching pathways for these gestures.

Whether you are a parent wearing a mask, an isolated parent or a parent experiencing adversity, we make the following recommendations to help strengthen your baby or toddler’s mental health today, tomorrow and for the future.

Supporting Infant Mental Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic
  • If you are experiencing depression, anxiety or family violence, seek support. Your baby feels your stress. Their emotional wellbeing and mental health is directly linked to your emotional wellbeing and mental health.
  • Playing, singing and reading with your little one will bring them great joy and let them know they are safe and loved. Hearing your calm voice and feeling your touch will soothe them.
  • Predictability and age appropriate routines provide feelings of comfort, safety and security.
  • Practice Mindfulness – allow time to maintain a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens. Tune into what you’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future. Be kind to yourself.
  • Be their calm to their chaos. Comforting and nurturing your child helps to regulate their emotions.
  • Reach out for help and advice. We have listed a number of help lines below.
A letter to mum and dad

Tweddle is commemorating Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 and the theme 20:20 vision, ‘seeing the world through babies’ eyes, with messages to parents from babies, translated as letters of love and hope for the future. Infant mental health refers to how well a child develops socially and emotionally from birth to age three. Understanding infant mental health is the key to preventing and treating the mental health problems of very young children and their families.

While at Tweddle parents learn about what a baby needs from their relationships and the importance of tuning into their child. Activities and enrichment programs at Tweddle include music, reading, play and understanding cues.

These day to day actions let a baby or toddler know that they are loved and safe. When relationships are reliably responsive and supportive, they can actually buffer young children from the adverse effects of stressors.

Tweddle, clinicians work on addressing the stressors on the family therefore reducing the stressors affecting the babies and toddlers. Infant Mental Health defines a young child’s capacity to experience, regulate and express emotions, form close and secure relationships and to explore and learn. Earliest relationships matter for building babies brains at Tweddle.

During Infant Mental Health Awareness Week Tweddle will be sharing daily updates on social media. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn #IMHAW20

Where to go for help and advice:

During Infant Mental Health Awareness Week, we ask that you consider making a tax deductible donation to the Tweddle Foundation. This will support the sustainability of Tweddle and the programs we provide across Victoria to parents and carers of babies and toddlers experiencing adversity.

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 

Tweddle’s Screening of Resilience: The Biology of Stress and The Science of Hope on Thursday 13th of June saw more than 140 people gather to learn about Adverse Childhood Experiences, Infant Mental Health and Protective Factors.

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week has become an annual global initiative held in June.  It invites Government, industry and consumers to consider the distinct needs of babies and toddlers and to invest in the services that support parents and carers in the early years.

Joining the Tweddle Board, Management and staff were special guests including Professor Campbell Paul, President-Elect of the WAIMH Board of Directors and consultant infant psychiatrist at the Royal Children’s Hospital and Royal Women’s Hospital.

Tweddle Board Member of twelve years and ex Chair Dr. Nicole Milburn, recognised the achievements of Associate Professor Brigid Jordan who through her roles with the Royal Children’s Hospital Health and Social Work Departments, as well as the MCRI and the University of Melbourne, focused much attention on the needs of babies and toddlers. Tweddle Chairperson Doris Whitmore thanked Dr Milburn for her long service to Tweddle.

People came together to see the award-winning documentary and learn more about ACEs, now understood to be one of the leading contributing causes of heart disease, cancer, substance abuse and depression.

Tweddle CEO Jacquie O’Brien reminded guests that for ACES to be understood, parents needed support, follow up and links to community resources. Parents and their children also benefited from being asked questions about their past as is the case with Tweddle’s intake and assessment process. As the documentary highlighted, the earlier we help, the better. “The child may not remember, but the body remembers.”

RESILIENCE: THE BIOLOGY OF STRESS & THE SCIENCE OF HOPE, is a film which chronicles the birth of a new movement among pediatricians, therapists, educators and communities, who are using cutting-edge brain science to disrupt cycles of violence, addiction and disease.

Difficult Beginnings was the theme for Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2019.  Difficult beginnings are what many babies and toddlers are experiencing when they come to Tweddle with stressed and anxious mums, dads and carers.

RESILIENCE is a one-hour documentary using beautiful animation and pioneering individuals, that delves into the science of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the birth of a new movement to treat and prevent Toxic Stress. Now understood to be one of the leading causes of everything from heart disease and cancer to substance abuse and depression, extremely stressful experiences in childhood can alter brain development and have lifelong effects on health and behaviour.

The original research was controversial, but the findings revealed the most important public health findings of a generation. RESILIENCE is a one-hour documentary that delves into the science of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the birth of a new movement to treat and prevent Toxic Stress.

Now understood to be one of the leading causes of everything from heart disease and cancer to substance abuse and depression, extremely stressful experiences in childhood can alter brain development and have lifelong effects on health and behavior.

However, as experts and practitioners profiled in RESILIENCE are proving, what’s predictable is preventable. These physicians, educators, social workers and communities are daring to talk about the effects of divorce, abuse and neglect. And they’re using cutting edge science to help the next generation break the cycles of adversity and disease.

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week – the origins

The inaugural Infant Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK was in 2016 when the charity Parent Infant Partnership (PIP) UK set out to raise a greater understanding for policy makers, professionals and parents about why giving every baby the best possible start in life matters to the life chances of children and families.

The World Association of Infant Mental Health Position Paper on the Rights of Infants includes the ‘Basic Principles of Infant Rights’ (Birth to three years of age) and highlights; “An all-too-common view is that the baby is “too small to really understand or to remember” and thus the baby’s perspective is often not appreciated by health professionals and even by parents.  Infants have unique nonverbal ways of expressing themselves and their capacities to feel, to form close and secure relationships, and to explore the environment and learn – all of which require appropriate nurturing since they are fundamental for building a lifetime of mental and physical health”

Improving the social and emotional welfare of babies and toddlers is vital for developing their capacity to experience and regulate emotions, form close and secure relationships and grow good mental health in childhood and throughout life.

Most of us know that there is a critical window of development that takes place in the first 1000 days where 80% of a child’s brain is developed. Relationships are crucial to babies during this period and are the building blocks for good mental health in childhood and throughout life.

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week – Tweddle

Tweddle’s first Infant Mental Health Awareness Week event was a business breakfast in 2017. ‘Babies, Business and The Bottom Line’ explored the links between investment in the very early years and the skills needed for school, the workforce, relationships, sport and the community.

Western Bulldogs President Mr Peter Gordon and US Psychiatrist Dr Bruce Perry spoke about resilience, about the importance of early relationships and on striving to reach goals. Dr Perry reflected on the importance of empathy and how western society is experiencing material wealth yet a poverty of social and emotional opportunity.

We are grateful to have The Minister for Health, The Hon. Jill Hennessy MP and Professor Ravi Savarirayan, clinical geneticist and Group Leader of Skeletal Biology and Disease at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in attendance.

Twedde’s Seminar on attachment, trauma and resilience ‘Babies’ Brains Matter’ featured a number of inspirational speakers including Tweddle’s Manager High Risk Programs, Louise Gawler, Paediatric Occupational Therapist Kristen Pringle and Dr Matthew Roberts, a Psychiatrist specialising in the area of infant mental health.

The seminar explored the impacts of traumatic stress on a baby’s developing brain and DNA, the importance of talking to babies and how a constantly distracted carer can be stressful for a baby. The topic of dads and programs for dads were discussed, as was how crucial it was that babies experience a sense of fun in the home.

Tweddle look forward to presenting further events and seminars with a focus on Infant Mental Health as part of the International movement to advocate for the rights of babies and toddlers.

We invite you to lend your voice to the Infant Mental Health Awareness movement by contacting our Communications Manager and signing the #BabiesBrainsMatter pledge.


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