Next week (7-12th June 2020) is Infant Mental Health Week and this year’s theme is “seeing the world through babies eyes” which aims to encourage people to think about the experiences of babies, and how these influence their mental health and development.
Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust recognises that parents may be worried about how the current COVID-19 pandemic will affect the long-term mental and emotional health and wellbeing of their babies. They want parents living in Hampshire to know that their Health Visitors are still here to offer support and have adapted their services, offering video appointments, their 0-5 ChatHealth text messaging service and virtual groups. They also offer, in partnership with Barnardos, the Five to Thrive programme that educates parents on the five important steps that contribute to the development of a healthy brain.
Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust’s Health Visiting Service supports over 15,000 expecting parents and parents with newborn babies and infants across Hampshire (excluding Southampton City and Portsmouth City). They offer information, support and advice about caring for babies and young children. This can include support for the emotional wellbeing of parents and children, infant feeding support, advice about sleep, child development and children’s behaviour.
Since lockdown commenced, Health Visitors have supported over 13000 parents and their babies, mostly via video appointments, and their 0-5 ChatHealth service has supported 2798 parents, answering questions and addressing any worries, quickly and simply, via text. The Hampshire Healthy Families website (a partnership between Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust and Barnardos) also offers a range of programmes and signposts to local groups, offering help, support and guidance to parents, carers and families in Hampshire
Dawn Brenchley, Specialist Health Visitor for Perinatal and Infant Mental Health, Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust,
“We understand that it is a really difficult time at the moment and these can be worrying times for parents with new born babies and infants. Our Health Visitors are still here to support you and offer help and guidance where needed. We are offering a range of support and have adapted our services to make sure we can continue to provide you with the help and support you and your baby may need. This can be via video appointment, via our text messaging ChatHealth service and our virtual groups. So if you need support please do contact us and help us, help you.”
Many parents who have had babies through lockdown have been worried about the impact it may have on their baby’s mental and emotional health and wellbeing. Southern Health’s Health visitors have still been able to offer support virtually.
Jessika Cardinali and Adam Dale, from Basingstoke, are parents to 4-week-old Finley. Jessika talks about what it was like to have a new born baby through lockdown and describes how the family are still able to receive support from their Health Visitor via video calls,
“Having our baby, Finley, through lockdown has been naturally worrying. As first time parents, my partner and I worried that we wouldn’t know what to do and were concerned that the people that you would usually see, such as your Health Visitor and family members, couldn’t be there for additional face to face support. I also worried that Finley would not have the social interaction with family, friends and other babies that a newborn would usually have. Karen, our Health Visitor was incredible. We had our first visit via a three-way skype call that meant my partner, who was at work at the time, was able to be there. On the call, Karen introduced herself and went through everything we needed to know.
We now have regular video calls and Karen is able to talk to the whole family and see Finley’s development. Karen is a great support, she always gives us fantastic advice about Finley, for example on feeding, and is able to answer any questions and provide reassurance on any worries we have. Having our Health Visitor appointments via video call has been great; we really don’t feel we have missed out being on lockdown. We know that if we need anything, Karen is just a phone call away and we honestly couldn’t ask for more.”
Southern Health and Barnardos’ Five to Thrive programme helps parents, who may have worries about the impact of lockdown during COVID-19, on their baby’s development and emotional health and wellbeing. Five to thrive focus on five key fundamental elements in the development of a healthy brain, these are:
· Respond: When you respond to your baby’s needs you could be helping them to make a million connections every single second. You and your baby will also be producing pleasure hormones like oxytocin & endorphins and they provide ideal conditions for optimum brain development.
· Cuddle: Close physical contact when you cuddle your baby helps to calm their stress, especially if you are calm. Your baby will ‘attune’ to your body signals and this develops the foundations for them to be able to soothe their own stress as they get older
· Relax: Sometimes babies can become over-stimulated and they need you to help them to relax. When you relax, your heart rate and blood pressure drop, tension is released from your muscles and your baby starts to learn how to relax too.
· Play: Play helps your baby to make sense of the world and forms trillions of connections in the brain that are responsible for problem solving, reasoning, logic and thinking. Playfulness activates and stimulates your baby’s brain.
· Talk: When you talk to your baby, you make connections in the language centres of the brain. Learning to communicate through words will eventually help your baby to regulate their behaviour and emotions.
Melissa Lewis, Children Service Manager, Hampshire Healthy Families, Barnardo’s says,
“The brain grows more quickly in the first three years of life than at any other time. The relationships we experience as young babies and the things that happen to us, will shape the way we think and develop. Emotional nurture is also so important as it continues to feed the developing brain and as we grow older helps to maintain a healthy brain.
Our ‘Five to Thrive’ programme educates parents and explains the links between parenting and brain development offering help, support and guidance and provides activities on how they can to use these five key building blocks to help improve their babies mental and emotional wellbeing and overall development and growth.”
Parents can access the Five to Thrive programme plus other online support groups in their area by visiting http://www.hampshirehealthyfamilies.org.uk/.
Parents can find contact details for their Health Visitor in their child’s red book and telephone numbers for local health visiting teams are available on Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust’s website at https://www.southernhealth.nhs.uk/services/child-health-services/health-visiting/. To access the 0-5 ChatHealth text messaging service, please text your questions or worries to 07520615720 available Monday to Thursday 9am-4.30pm and Friday 9am-4pm (excluding bank holidays).