Infant Mental Health Awareness Week

Posted on June 10, 2020

It's Infant Mental Health Awareness Week and Bliss' Campaigns and Policy Manager, Josie Anderson, explains what impact COVID-19 is having on babies, and what you can do to help.

All our lives have changed over the last few months, but babies are still being born - and around 300 will still be admitted to neonatal care every single day.

For babies who are born needing neonatal care to have the very developmental outcomes, and for them to form secure attachments and strong bonds – which is so important for their well-being – their parents must be able to take the lead in delivering their baby’s care.

Why parents need to be involved in care

  • Evidence has shown that long periods of direct care lead to increased weight-gain and improved breastfeeding rates, and skin-to-skin care has been linked to better infant reflexes at term and better gross motor development at 4-5 years.
  • High levels of involvement are also important for bonding and forming secure attachment. Parents who are supported to be with their baby for prolonged periods of time report increased parental confidence, reduced stress and anxiety scores.
  • Providing direct, hands on care may also be key for parents’ own perceptions of attachment to their baby - and physical and emotional closeness is crucial for forming strong parent-infant bonds.

But COVID-19 is making this more difficult. Not only are neonatal units limiting parental access – sometimes with policies which exclude one parent from care altogether, or which limit how long parents can be with their baby, but reduced family finances, job insecurity and the wider impact of lockdown restrictions are all making it harder for parents to maximise opportunities to be with their baby.

Parents Aren’t Visitors, and over the last few months we’ve been advocating for both parents to be with their baby as much as possible and asking units to introduce policies in line with our position statement.

We are also campaigning for governments across the UK to introduce extra support to remove other barriers which can prevent parents from being with their baby.

  • An emergency version of Neonatal Leave and Pay introduced, in recognition that parent of premature and sick babies born during the pandemic will have had opportunities to be with their baby reduced, and many parents may not have had the opportunity to parent together before their baby is home. Babies will need this time to bond with their parents and wider family at home more than ever.
  • Nationally co-ordinated funds to cover the costs of food, drink, travel and accommodation. We know these costs can already be difficult for families to manage but COVID-19 is reducing parents’ options even further. This type of support has already existed since 2018 in Scotland – now is the time to make this UK wide.
  • Understandably, parents who have symptoms of COVID-19 or who are living with someone who has symptoms will not be able to go onto the neonatal unit at all. This can mean separation from their baby for up to 14 days. Prioritising these parents for rapid testing can reduce the length of this separation and ensure babies can be with their parents quicker.

We’ve already taken these issues to Parliament and raised them with a Parliamentary Committee. But urgent action is needed now to make sure babies can have their parents right where they need them to be during the pandemic – by their side. Join our campaign and sign our petition now!