What do we mean by infant mental health and healthy attachment? By Vivian Allen, Founder of DorPIP – the Dorset Parent Infant Partnership

“Infant Mental health is best thought of in the same way as physical health. When we are well we flourish in every aspect of life, relationships, growth and development. We are able to take full advantage of opportunities life has to offer. Healthy, secure attachment, built up by everyday sensitive and appropriately responsive parenting, means a child will be more likely to grow up in a way that will enable them to make the most of their life, be emotionally resilient and cope better with stress. 

On the other hand, very insecure, disorganized attachment is associated with significant emotional and behavioural problems, and poor social and emotional outcomes. In the most extreme cases where babies experience adverse childhood experiences, known as ACEs, their physical health can also suffer due to an increased dependence on alcohol or substances and unhealthy lifestyle choices.”

Baby Asleep

The Top Five Ways that Infant Massage can Promote Infant Mental Health. By Emma Lindell IAIM Certified Infant Massage Instructor

  1. Positive Nurturing Touch – Touch is the first sense developed in the womb and touch is how a baby primarily experiences and communicates with their world. A parent’s positive nurturing touch has an important role for easing the transition from womb to world for their new baby. Infant Massage can be a wonderful extension of this natural impulse, whilst enhancing the bonding process through skin-to-skin touch, eye contact, voice, smell and the release of oxytocin.
  2. Attunement – Infant Massage is a baby-led parenting practice that is cue-based and therefore provides the perfect opportunity for parents to gain a deeper understanding of their baby’s behavioural states, unique language and their cues, and how to respond according to these with empathy, love and listening.
  3. Bonding and healthy attachment – Not only does Infant Massage encompass all the elements of bonding; touch, eye contact, voice, smell and the release of oxytocin, it empowers the parent as the expert of their baby, which leads to higher levels of self-esteem and increased confidence in their own ability to connect and communicate with their baby; which in turn is shown to enhance the bonding and attachment process.
  4. Hormones – The attunement and nurturing that is gained through the gentle interaction of Infant Massage increases parent responsiveness and so reduces the stress hormone cortisol, whilst promoting the feel good hormone, oxytocin.
  5. Brain development – The attunement and nurturing a baby receives through Infant Massage promotes the increase of neuron connections in a baby’s brain. These neurone connections are responsible for emotional and social intelligence and later resilience as they grow.

Created by Emma Lindell - IAIM Certified Infant Massage Instructor, owner of Sunflower Baby Massage, and co-founder of the Dorset Parent Infant Partnership.