The impact of bonding before birth on infant mental health

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week is an annual global event in June that sheds light on the significance of emotional wellbeing and development in babies. This year’s theme, ‘Bonding before birth,’ highlights the crucial role prenatal experiences and relationships play in shaping a child’s mental health.

By raising awareness and emphasising the importance of early bonding, Infant Mental Health Awareness Week aims to promote support services and interventions that can positively impact babies’ wellbeing.

Here, you’ll learn more about infant mental health, the importance of bonding before birth, where to get support, and finally, how you can help spread awareness and take action to support this cause.

The impact of bonding before birth on infant mental health

Understanding infant mental health

Unfortunately, infant mental health is a topic that often goes unnoticed or is misunderstood. However, research has shown that the experiences and relationships we encounter during our earliest years, including before birth, significantly influence our brain development.

Stress and adversity experienced during pregnancy can actually have long-term effects on the physical and mental health of babies, which means that it’s even more crucial to get the support you need during this critical time.

1 in 5 women will experience perinatal anxiety and depression, so early intervention is key. Read about the 3 benefits of early access to psychological support in pregnancy from our resident perinatal psychologist Lauren Keegan.

Where to get mental health support during pregnancy

There are various services available to support expectant parents and families during pregnancy that can make a profound difference in promoting positive mental health outcomes for infants, including:

  • Pregnancy, Birth and Baby helpline provides free, non-judgemental emotional support and reassurance from midwives and maternal and child health nurses. They’re available 7 days a week over the phone, or via video call between 7am and midnight. Phone 1800 882 436 in Australia (free from landlines).
  • PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression) national hotline is Australia’s only free helpline service for women, men and their families affected by perinatal anxiety and depression. Highly trained and caring counsellors can help you work through your challenges. Phone 1300 726 306 between 9am – 7.30pm Monday to Friday (AEST/AEDT). Fill out their mental health checklist here for expecting mums, dads, and non-birth parents, as well as new mums, new dads, new non-birth parents, and partners/carers.
  • Send us your questions and concerns via DM over on our Facebook page and we will share them with our community of expectant and new mums. We can post anonymously for you if you prefer.

Embracing the theme: ‘Bonding before birth’

This year’s theme invites us to reflect on our hopes and dreams for our babies and recognise the role they play in our lives.

Whether you are a parent, a relative, or a friend, take this opportunity to share your thoughts, perceptions, and feelings about the babies in your world.

Use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and more to post pictures, videos, and stories. Let’s make our babies’ voices heard during this special week dedicated to their wellbeing. Don’t forget to include the hashtag #IMHAW2023 to join the conversation and spread awareness.

Read our article Creating a bond with your baby before they’re born for 15 ideas on how you can bond with your unborn baby, and 15 ideas on how your partner or other caregivers can bond with your unborn baby.

Taking action to spread awareness

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week is not only about social media posts but also about taking tangible steps to support the cause. Here’s how:

  • Reach out to your friends, family, and colleagues and engage in conversations about the importance of infant mental health.
  • Consider being a guest on podcasts and sharing stories about your experiences, or the experiences of friends and family members. By initiating these discussions, we can encourage people to reflect on what it’s like for babies and the challenges they may face in their early lives.
  • Encourage healthcare professionals to include discussions about infant mental health in routine check-ups and provide resources for parents.
  • Partner with local early childhood programs, such as daycare centres, preschools, and parenting support groups, to promote infant mental health awareness. Offer to conduct or organise workshops or informational sessions for parents and caregivers on the topic.
  • Get involved in advocating for policies that support infant mental health. This could involve contacting local legislators, participating in campaigns, or joining organisations that work to promote policies and programs aimed at supporting early childhood development and mental health.
  • Contribute to organisations that focus on infant mental health, such as AAIMH. By donating your time, skills, or financial resources, you can help these organisations carry out their work, including raising awareness, providing support to families, and conducting research.
  • Offer support and guidance to parents and caregivers by sharing evidence-based information and resources related to infant mental health. Connect them with local services, support groups, or professionals who specialise in early childhood mental health.
  • Recognise that supporting infant mental health also involves supporting parental wellbeing. Encourage self-care practices, stress reduction techniques, and access to mental health resources for parents and caregivers.