Infant Mental Health for the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Foundational Concepts of Infant Mental Health
There are three main foundational concepts of infant mental health: attachment, parent-infant relationship, and social-emotional development.
Attachment behavior refers to the tactics an infant undertakes to ensure that their primary caregiver provides comfort, nurturance, and security (Zeanah, Berlin & Boris, 2011). Insecure attachment is often a precursor to mental health issues. Often attachment is equated (or used interchangeably) with the term bonding, but the concepts while related are distinct. Attachment and early social-emotional development emerge within the context of the parent-infant relationship.
Of course the parent part of the equation is widely defined to include any person who assumes the primary parenting role (e.g., mother, father, grandparent, aunt, or foster parent). PNPs can assess the parent-infant relationship through observation and the use of screening tools (Ryan-Wegner, 2007).
The desired outcome of secure attachment and a positive parent-infant relationship is optimal social-emotional development. Important early milestones in social-emotional development include eye contact and social smile.