200 organisations have come together this week to highlight National Infant Mental Health Week which focuses on raising awareness of the importance of giving every child the best possible start in life, beginning from conception.
Begin before birth is the theme of the week to particularly highlight the importance of supporting a healthy pregnancy experience for expectant parents and strengthening the opportunity for the next generation to have a best start in life.
Around 2.4 million babies will be born in the UK before 2020. This also represents our future workforce - the next generation to have their potential nurtured through family and community life - to become the next generation of leaders, thinkers and innovators.
Early childhood development matters. By the time these babies turn three, the foundations for all learning and relationships have been formed. Their brain development in this time is critical to later success in life and school with around 100 billion neural connections being formed.
The quality of everyday physical and emotional experiences they have with parents, families, caregivers and communities all determine the strength of the foundation. The strength of the foundation we give babies now will help determine the strength of our nation's potential in the future. All of this begins in pregnancy.
Key areas of pregnancy that continue to require further support are:
• Supporting couple relationships - Supporting the relationship between parents contributes to their impact on their child during pregnancy and potential after birth and throughout childhood. Access to relationship support pre-and post-birth is critical to a child's life opportunities, as this is where the highest proportion of relationship breakdown occurs.
• Improved antenatal assessment and classes - Ante-natal assessment should be more holistic and focus on the expectant parents physical and mental health as well as equipping parents with tips on how to build a positive bond with their baby.
• Improved workplace culture -Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is at record levels, fathers-to-be have less opportunities to attend antenatal classes and there is a greater commitment required to ensure flexible working and support is offered to families with young children to ensure the health and wellbeing of the family.
Andy Cook, Chief Executive for the Centre for Social Justice says "Social justice begins before birth to give every child the best start in life. Science shows that right from the beginning a healthy pregnancy provides the opportunity to significantly tackle poverty, disadvantage and social inequalities"
Professor Vivette Glover from Imperial College London says "We now know that the environment of the womb and during the first two years of life can alter the development of the brain. Infant mental health can set the trajectory for the rest of life. Although it is never too late to help, it is best to get things right from the beginning"
Researchers at King's College London led by Professor Carmine Pariante have shown that depression in pregnancy increases the risk of the offspring being more sensitive to stress, more likely to experience stressful life events in childhood, and more prone to depression in adolescence and early adulthood.
Alain Gregoire, Chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance said: "The Maternal Mental Health Alliance welcomes the focus on pregnancy for this year's Infant Mental Health Awareness Week. It is so important for us all to understand the sensitivity of the baby, both during pregnancy and after, to relationships in the family and to the mother's mental wellbeing."
Barnardo's Chief Executive, Javed Khan, said: "Working with babies and their parents across our services, Barnardo's knows the importance of giving children a healthy start in life to put them on the best path to a positive future.
"We welcome the focus on pregnancy for this year's Infant Mental Health Awareness Week because bonding can start even while the baby is still in the womb.
"Barnardo's stresses to all the mums and dads who we work with that parenthood begins before birth because many don't realise they can start making a difference even before their child is born."
Dr Cheryll Adams from the Institute of Health Visiting says that the link between emotional wellbeing in the very first years of life and later physical, mental and social health outcomes is now well evidenced. As a nation we should not hesitate in realigning investment and attention onto early childhood when it can make the greatest difference to future health, social care and fiscal spending and ensure that every child meets their potential.
Dawn Cannon of AIMH (UK) says the relationship between parents and their child begins in the ante natal period. The unborn baby being held in the mind of the mother and the father.
We need to offer all-inclusive support to parents to make the transition to parenthood and identify parents who need extra help to break transgenerational cycles of insecure attachment status and trauma.