This week is Infant Mental Health Awareness Week (11 – 17 June), and parents are being reminded about the various services available across the region to help support families and their young children.
Infant mental health refers to the emotional and social development of your baby’s first 1000 days of life. It’s during this time that 80 per cent of a baby’s critical brain development takes place.
Riverina Paediatrician Associate Professor John Preddy said positive mental health and wellbeing of infants, babies and toddlers helps them build strong relationships and manage their feelings into the future.
“When caring for babies we often focus on the physiological needs of warmth, food and keeping them physically safe, but it’s equally important to care for a baby’s social and emotional wellbeing,” Prof Preddy said.
“We know that babies need their caregivers to consistently respond sensitively to them, as this comfort and safety lays the foundations for future relationships, influences brain development, and leads to being confident and independent adults.
“Parents should consider seeking further help and support if you’re experiencing any difficulties and some of the things to seek further advice around would be excessive crying, failing to thrive, not responding happily to you, not playing or repetitively playing, not making eye contact, not getting upset when you would expect them to, not feeling comforted by you, or going backwards in some of the skills they’ve learned,” Prof Preddy said.
Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network (MPHN) CEO, Melissa Neal said several mental health services supporting young children and their families are available, and there are features within the expansion of the national My Health Record system to allow parents to track and monitor health, social and development milestones.
“Using the ‘Childhood Development’ section, parents are able to keep a record of personal measurements, immunisations and health checks on their baby. Healthcare providers will be able to view this information, and parents can use these as prompts to voice their concerns with healthcare professionals including practice nurses or GPs,” Ms Neal said.
“Should parents require support from mental healthcare providers, MPHN funds a range of programs including Strong Minds, a face to face service, and Connect4Kids a video based service; both are available across the region.
“For pregnant women and new mothers experiencing alcohol and other drug disorders, there’s the new Women’s Wellness and Recovery Program at the Calvary Riverina Alcohol and Drug Centre.
“I encourage all parents to register their children for a My Health Record and use the ‘Childhood Development’ feature to keep a safe and secure record of their growth, and for those who are already experiencing challenges or having any concerns about the mental and social wellbeing of their baby or toddler, or have concerns about your own personal mental health to reach out to their healthcare providers to access this support,” she said.
Parents can register and learn more about My Health Record by visiting myhealthrecord.gov.au or if they need further assistance, they can call the free help line on 1800 723 471.