Understanding past trauma and relationships vital to positive infant mental health

Understanding past trauma and relationships vital to positive infant mental health


Infant Mental Health Awareness Week (IMHAW) in Australia launched today with the Tweddle Foundation’s ‘Understanding Early Trauma’ Seminar at the Substation in Newport.

IMHAW has become a movement for change since it was started in 2016 by the Parent Infant Foundation UK. At today’s seminar, over 150 health and community sector workers gathered to add their voices to the movement and to hear guest speakers Professor Louise Newman AM, Psychologist Colby Pearce, Gunditjmara Elder Annette Vickery and Dr Nicole Milburn.

Nicole delivered virtual presentations with Dr Julie Larrieu PhD and Dr Joy Osofsky PhD and facilitated a panel discussion. Both presentations were excellent and shared insights gained from traumatic events experienced by infants and their parents, including Hurricane Katrina.

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week highlights the need for a greater understanding about why giving every baby the best possible start is vital to their life chances.

Guest speakers explored the infant’s experience of early trauma and the importance of understanding parental trauma. Also discussed was the need for health workers to take the time to coach and help parents see themselves as parents, taking into consideration experiences of past trauma that may surface once a person becomes a parent. The importance of consistent, secure, attachment relationships was discussed, and the need to help parents ‘be with’ their infants and to help them to understand their child’s inner world.

Panelist Annette Vickery spoke about the importance of connection to Country, connection to Culture and connection to Community for supporting Aboriginal families, and that a broad community of kinship supports should be called upon to care for family.

Today’s theme of Understanding Early Trauma is intrinsically linked with inter-generational trauma and that includes generations of Aboriginal families who continue to experience trauma linked to colonisation and stolen generations.

During Infant Mental Health Awareness Week, Tweddle become even louder advocates for infants. We need to increase awareness of the baby blind-spot, a term that highlights that the focus on child mental health, often overlooks infancy.

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. The good news is that this is 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.

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 continue to 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.

During the event guests signed an Infant Mental Health Awareness Week Pledge. The Pledge asked that ‘you include babies and toddlers when you talk about Children and Young People’s Mental Health.’

It stated:

Changing our language to talk about “babies/toddlers, children and young people’s mental health” is a simple but powerful way to drive change.

We believe that small changes in language could catalyse wider changes in attitudes, understanding and eventually in policy and service provision.

Through making this pledge, you are committing to talk about “babies, toddlers, children and young people’s mental health” wherever appropriate and to include babies and toddlers in more of your discussions, thinking and action to improve children’s mental health.

The video of Tweddle’s ‘Understanding Early Trauma’ Seminar will be shared in coming weeks. Subscribe to Tweddle’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn page for announcements.

Tweddle IMHAW event
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