Having a baby can bring so much magic into your world, but it’s important to remember that there might be a few bumps in the road. It’s a sad thing to think about, but babies and children can suffer from mental health issues. Looking out for the signs, catching it early and focusing on things designed to improve their mental wellbeing can really help.
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Of course, until they’re a bit older, babies can’t tell you if something’s wrong, so there are other signs that need to be looked out for. Some research has found that mental health issues affect around 16-18% of 1-5 year olds, so remember that you’re totally not alone in this.
It’s thought that infants are so susceptible because their brains are basically like sponges. They’re taking in so much information so quickly and being moulded by the world around them. So, their experiences at this time can have a big effect on their emotional wellbeing.
What should I look out for?
It can be difficult to spot the signs. Sometimes babies just do things because they’re babies! But if you’re concerned about any of these things, you should talk to your healthcare professional:
- Baby doesn’t want to be held
- They seem to be excessively upset
- They don’t coo, babble or talk as they should
- You’re noticing eating and sleeping problems beyond the norm (but remember that no two babies are the same, and the norm can vary a lot!)
- They don’t seem to interact or make eye contact
- They lose skills they had before
The Bluebell Smart baby monitor was made with parent and baby mental health in mind. Naveen, a consultant psychiatrist and one of Bluebells founders says, "Mental health issues in children can occur in the early years (15%) and throughout childhood (25%). A recent study by Place2be showed that 56% of children say that they worry all the time about something and children with less sleep are less able to cope with worries. Mental wellbeing in early years and childhood provides a solid foundation to healthy development later. Of course, the parental wellbeing both during pregnancy and after birth can impact mental wellbeing in children. So, it is important for parents to be aware of their own wellbeing as well as their children's, and know when to seek help. And a good sleep routine and hygiene can really help with this."
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How can I help my little one?
Be there for them
This might be obvious but it’s super important. Babies are shaped by the world around them – their interactions and environment. Just making sure to give them lots of cuddles, talk, sing and read to them will help create a positive bond.
Information from the Centre for Mental Health says that “A healthy attachment to a caregiver helps to protect babies from adversity and stress: acting as a ‘buffer’ with the world outside and slowly helping infants to self-regulate in the face of frustration.” Think of it like this: the world is brand new and confusing for babies, and you’re there to let them know that everything’s okay!
Lots of play/family time
Children should have plenty of play time slotted in. This can help with their physical and mental development. So, things like tummy time when they’re really young, then moving onto playing with toys and then running around outside. The right amount of exercise can also help them sleep better.
Baby’s mental health can be helped in play situations with plenty of praise, encouragement and just general positive emotions coming from you. Babies can recognise happy and sad expressions from very early on, so be mindful of your own emotions when you’re with them. Think about the vibes you pick up from happy faces compared to sad – babies can feel that too!
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Stick to routines
You’ve probably heard about sticking to consistent routines to help baby sleep better, but it can also help with baby’s mental health. Routines can help create a sense of security, making them feel comfortable as well as building a trusting bond between you. Eventually they’ll learn to anticipate changes in their own time – you’re there to ease them in.
Listen to their cues and learn what they mean
Babies cry, a lot. It’s the only way they know how to communicate. Sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly why they’re crying, but there are things you can look out for. For example, tired babies might yawn, fuss or lose interest in things. Hungry babies might turn towards the breast or make sucking sounds. Babies that need a break might turn their head away or squirm.
It will probably take a bit of trial and error, but responding to these cues can make them feel safe and secure, and help develop the bond between you. No two babies are the same, so it’s all about learning as they grow to figure out what they need from you.
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Meet other parents
You’re definitely not alone. There are services set up all over the country to help new parents, and joining groups can really help to show you how common what’s happening really is. It can help build your confidence, and learn about the ways other parents cope with certain things when it comes to baby. Mental health issues can't always be helped, but knowing you've got someone to talk to about it can be such a relief.
Try NCT, MumsMeetUp, Contact, Early Start or do a Google search for local groups. And if you can’t make it out to one, there’s always online forums like Mumsnet and Made for Mums – the wonders of the internet!
Look after your wellbeing too
Having a baby can be super stressful, and it’s so easy for parents to put extra pressure on themselves. And parent mental health can have an impact on baby mental health. Of course, looking after baby is a priority, but so is your wellbeing. After all, you need to be well to look after baby, don’t you? So, make sure you’re still making time for yourself, eating properly, exercising and always ask for help when you need it.
Check out our post on self-care tips for new mums for some inspo on looking after you. You could also get yourself a Bluebell Smart baby monitor, which looks after parents as well as babies! It can help reduce stress, improve sleep and just give you some of your precious time back!
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Where can I go for some extra help?
Just like mental health issues in adults, sometimes we have no control over them in babies and there’s no exact reason for why things come about. Asking for help does not change the fact that you’re a super parent! We all need a little bit of help sometimes. Some great services include:
- Cry-sis – support for families with babies who cry excessively or have sleep problems.
- Home start – local community network of volunteers and experts who help families with young children through challenging times.
- NCT – support for parents through pregnancy, birth and beyond.
- Action for Children – work with families to give advice to help them form strong relationships. They also have local support groups.
- Young Minds – mental health support for children and young people.
- Contact – support for families with disabled children.
- NSPCC - a helpline for if you have concerns over someone's child.
- Family action - perinatal mental health support.
- Mind - mental health support, providing lots of helpful information and local networks.
- Maternal Mental Health Alliance - a collection of organisations that helps women get consistent, accessible and quality care and support for mental health through pregnancy and the year after birth.
- Fathers Reaching Out - mental health support for dads.
- There are also lots of local organisations (NHS and other) that are there to support you and your little one. For example, Together with Baby in Essex, Babies in Mind in South London and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in various places across the country.
- If you’re very concerned over your little one and their development, contact a healthcare professional. They’ll be able to tell you the best thing to do and (hopefully) ease some of your anxieties.
Remember, if you’re having concerns or feeling alone, there are so many people going through the same thing. Just talking about it can be the first step towards improving how you feel and helping your family. Let us know if you’ve got any questions about any of this.