Infant Mental Health for the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Introduction to Infant Mental Health
Infancy is an especially important period for growth and development. Within the span of little over a year, infants go from being completely dependent on others to being able to take a step or two and speak a word or two. Synaptogenesis and myelination of the brain evolve dramatically during the first year of life (Zeanah, 2009). Positive enduring relationships with caring adults are an essential component for optimal infant growth and development (NAPNAP, 2010). Strategies to support infant and family success are a necessary part of the pediatric nurse practitioners role in assuring optimal infant development (NAPNAP, 2010). The pediatric nurse practitioner working in primary care with a regular, on-going relationship with families is in an ideal position to inform and support parents around infant mental health issues including identifying concerns and initiating interventions and referrals.
Infant Mental Health Definitions
Essentially Infant Mental Health is healthy social-emotional development.
“Infant Mental Health (IMH) refers to the capacity of children from birth to age three to experience, regulate, and express emotions; form close, secure interpersonal relationships; and explore the environment and learn – all in the context of family, community, and cultural expectations for young children. Infant mental health is synonymous with healthy social-emotional development” (ZERO TO THREE, Infant Mental Health Task Force, 2002, p. 1).
The World Association of Infant Mental Health defines Infant Mental Health: “as the ability to develop physically, cognitively, and socially in a manner which allows (infants) to master the primary emotional tasks of early childhood without serious disruption caused by harmful life events. Because infants grow in a context of nurturing environments, infant mental health involves the psychological balance of the infant-family system (World Association of Infant Mental Health, 2011).”
Positive enduring relationships with caring adults are an essential component for optimal
infant growth and development (NAPNAP, 2010). Early intervention for infants at risk for
mental health issues is very important. Since infant physical health and infant mental health is
inseparable, amelioration of mental health stressors can positively impact physical health. Pre
birth stressors (e.g. intimate partner violence, maternal chronic illness, illicit drug use), infant
withdrawal from maternal use of psychiatric drugs during pregnancy, child welfare involvement,
or disturbances in the parent-infant attachment bond all may make an infant at high-risk for
social-emotional problems as both mother and infants are already vulnerable.
Importance of Infant Mental Health