Health Matters: Support is vital for parents looking after their little ones
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THE pandemic has pulled us into a world where we have lost feelings of control over our lives and connection to others, writes Dr Tracy McGlynn.
A parent whose child is born ill or premature may feel this all the more.
Without their normal support systems, they also have to cope with limited access to their baby in hospital as well as all the other stressors Covid has brought to their life.
It is understandable that so many parents with an infant in SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit) describe a feeling of being overwhelmed and may underestimate how significant their role is in helping their baby to thrive.
A baby is born ready to connect.
Their brain has been developing since conception and will continue to make considerable leaps in the first two years.
These first 1000 days of life are regarded as absolutely formative in the establishing of a secure parent-child attachment.
This is created through interactions where the parent is responsive to the child’s needs.
This connection helps the child learn to feel safe in the world, trust that someone will meet their needs and helps them learn to manage their feelings.
It is the parent’s voice which the infant will recognise when they come into this world.
It is their unique sound which can calm their baby in an overstimulating environment and also offer necessary distraction when undergoing a medical procedure.
We naturally adapt our normal speaking style to better suit infants.
Often a sing song pattern with exaggerated sounds and drawn out words form part of our way of successfully engaging a little one’s attention.
However a parent can need encouragement to feel confident enough to sing, hum, read or chat to their infant when they can be observed by others in the Unit.
When apart, providing the infant with something that carries their parent’s scent, which is known to them from birth, can offer comfort.
Videos and photos of the baby sent to the parent from the Unit can provide reassurance also.
Infants connect through touch, even the stroke of a finger through an incubator can be soothing.
When able to benefit from being placed on their parent’s chest for skin-to-skin contact or kangaroo care, the infant can actually experience pain relief.
There are a host of other benefits which highlight how this form of bonding enables a parent and child to connect and co-regulate.
Similar benefits are seen through the practice of carrying a baby in a sling on the Unit.
A parent connecting to their infant through their senses is powerful, the importance of which has been highlighted in a new campaign by the Scottish Government ‘Wellbeing for Wee Ones’ – parentclub.scot/wellbeing
The quality of our connections to others help us thrive throughout our life.
And at no greater time than now, we need to support parents to feel connected and cared for so they can feel soothed and in turn help their infant feel the same.
- Dr Tracy McGlynn is lead of the Paediatric Clinical Health Psychology Service in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).