The opening session of day two at the Royal College of Midwives Conference was dedicated to the importance of postnatal mental health for infant and mother.

Child psychotherapist Robin Balbernie told delegates that dealing with infant mental health is vastly different to adult or child mental health but if "you it right first time [with infants] then you can them the resilience to be mentally health for the rest of their life".

The Clinical Lead of Infant Mental Health at the Secure Start service in Gloucestershire added: "Relationships are key to good mental health and individuals build their expectations on relationships in infanthood.

"Anxious handling from parents, often due to external circumstances, leads to infants acting up, disengagement from parents and ultimately poor expectations from children. Just think, if a child goes into school expecting a positive relationship and effective support from teachers then they are much more inclined to act in a way that encourages this, so creating these expectations at a young age is crucial."

Balbernie went on to explain the 7 key risk factors in care-giving: socio-demographic e.g. unemployement, poverty; lack of support; lack of practical environment for caregiving e.g. abusive family; availability of resources to be referred e.g. social services; biological vulnerability; lack of early attachment; and, role overload. 

He added that the presence of 4 or more of these was likely to lead to "overwhelm" the caregiver and lead to bad relationships but that early intervention by midwives could go a long way to reducing their impact.

Balbernie concluded: "There is no such thing as a bad parent, just bad resources and it's [a key] role of midwives to help ensure parents make the most of the ones they have available."

His talk was followed by Professor Debra Bick, who focussed more on the mental health aspect of postnatal parenting. 

The professor of evidence-based midwifery at King's College London urged delegates not to "define parents' needs or the need for midwives support by the confines of the 'postnatal period'".

Revealing the results of a KCL study she said that the majority of the 1,260 mums surveyed felt there was "a decline in women-centred quality standards" in recent years.

Within the study, Prof Bick's team made a complete revision of postnatal care in the West Midlands and found that while there was no difference in the mental health outcomes attained, there was a significant difference in women's views of care - evidence she concluded that "love matters".

For more from the RCM Annual Conference follow @journalfhc on Twitter with #rcmconf   

Posted 14/11/2012 by richard.hook@pavpub.com