Infant Mental Healthcare

The Many Dimensions of Infant Mental Health

A thorough understanding of infant mental health can help pediatric practices and other healthcare providers ensure that the emotional, psychological, and social needs of infants and their families are met. These needs impact everything including how we think, feel, and act. Ensuring that practices meet these needs can help infants and young children grow into healthy and well-adjusted adults.

A recent podcast on infant mental health gave us an opportunity to hear more about this aspect of healthcare from Lori Gallagher, an Implementation Project Manager for both Office Practicum and NextStep Solutions.

What is Infant Mental Health?

Infant mental health encompasses the overall well-being of both an infant and their family unit. Since infants cannot verbally communicate in the earliest stages of their development, exploring how non-verbal communication enhances the relationship and bond between parents and their children is the central goal of this practice.

Babies are not brought into this world to be independent. Infants are wholly dependent on their parents and caregivers in the earliest months of their lives. By caring for and strengthening the mental health of these adults, we can help improve a child’s ability to self-regulate, relate to others, and make healthy choices.

How to Support Infant Mental Health

Many care concerns can be identified, addressed, and treated through infant mental health care. Primarily, practices should focus their efforts on two areas: prevention and promotion.

Through preventative care, providers can actively practice being more in tune with what’s happening in an infant’s home. Taking preventive steps can also help them curb maladaptive behaviors that could negatively impact the child.

The next step is the promotion of healthier ideas and habits to support infant mental health. This includes proactive measures like screenings that can evaluate an infant’s social-emotional milestones, which aren’t assessed as often as physical indicators like height and weight.  

Here are some suggestions of how practices can address infant mental health more directly.

  • Prioritize parental mental health by offering unstructured time for providers to check in with both parents and ask them how they’re adjusting to the new baby.
  • Invest in training on infant mental health for the whole practice, not just doctors. Seeing things through this lens can help all practice staff — from nurses to front-line office workers — detect issues that can be noted in the practice’s EHR.  
  • Bring awareness to this topic. Offering in-office literature and online resources about infant mental health can help make families in your practice aware of your expertise and encourage them to ask questions more freely. Research in this area is continually improving, and there are always more resources to share.  

Encouraging providers, staff, and parents to increase their focus on infant mental health has many benefits. Children are biologically built to be in relationships, and by strengthening these familial bonds, we can improve health outcomes for our youngest patients.

To learn more about infant mental health, check out  “The Many Dimensions of Infant Mental Health” podcast.

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