Infant Mental Health

"The quality, style and responsiveness of the adult to the baby's cues for help, nurture, comfort and support will all profoundly influence those early patterns[of brain development]. We must also remember two other important factors about these interactions. Firstly, not only do they influence the child's emotional well being, but they also impact on the child's communication and learning development. Secondly, these interactions are within a context of the overall patterns of growth and development of every child and so they will also influence how later patterns of development emerge." From Forward to The Northamptonshire Baby Room Project© by Maria Robinson, 2009



“The idea that as a stressed practitioner, I can have a negative impact on the children in my care, [means I] therefore need to find ways to de-stress and become a more relaxed practitioner.” Delegate on Northamptonshire Baby Room Project©- practitioner course Corby 2016


Simple things smiling, cuddling, loving, playing together, looking at babies and talking with them build healthy brain connections.


A simple act with massive healing power.
Activates the new vagal pathway in self and others


Porges says. “Play requires social interaction using face-to-face.” healthy connections in our brains. In play we practice using our fight/flight systems properly – but we also learn to “diffuse them with social engagement.

“the social engagement system… in which we listen to intonation in voice and use facial engagement. When a person has vocal intonation, an expressive face and eyes open when we talk to them, this expressive individual is also contracting middle ear muscles that facilitate the extraction of human voice from background sounds

Stephen Porges Polyvagal theory Social engagement system in practice - Polyvagal theory practice

“The brain is a SOCIAL organ. Our minds emerge and our emotions become organised through engagement with other minds, not in isolation.” Sue Gerhardt Why Love Matters 2004

Attuned parents are able to imagine how their baby is feeling and say this back to their baby. For instance, the mind-minded parent is more likely to act as if a baby’s vocalizations represent an attempt to communicate. Mind-minded parents may also be more likely to

  • Pay attention to their baby’s gaze and interest in objects
  • Imitate their infant’s actions
  • Engage in sensitive, appropriate mind-minded talk—-i.e., comment on what a baby seems to be feeling or thinking.

Attachment is about the child’s ability to learn how to regulate their emotions through the safety of an adult who is able to co-regulate with them and the inherent safety provided. Divecha (2017) suggests secure attachment at has least three functions:

  1. Provides a sense of safety and security
  2. Regulates emotions, by soothing distress, creating joy, and supporting calm
  3. Offers a secure base from which to explore

Remember though, the attachment pattern of adults need not completely reflect the child’s early interactions with caregiver. Our internal model of relationships formed in early childhood continually updates and revised due to later experiences. We may tend toward a pattern of attachment. These fluctuate depending on temperament, partners, and self-regulation. Loyal friendships, healthy relationships and improvements in interactions with parents can turn an insecure attachment pattern into a more secure one.

Babies and infants mental health is greatly affected by the level of emotional resilience and mental health of the adults caring for them.

Babies suffer when there is shouting, violence and fear surrounding them.

Babies suffer when they are ignored.



Emotional Milestones

Read the PDF here

Tuning into your baby

Babies crave interactions with responsive, loving and nurturing people.


Did you know...?

Did you know that the brain of a three year old who is persistently and significantly abused is smaller in size and weight than a three year old who has had caring, loving nurturing relationships?

Research by Robin Balbernie shows how extreme neglect means there is negligible development in the temporal lobe area of the brain which governs expression and processing of emotion: brain will not regenerate where grey matter has atrophied. Some limited compensation possible.


Contact The Northamptonshire Baby Room Project ©

Write to: The Northamptonshire Baby Room Project, One Angel, Angel Square, Northampton NN1 1ED
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