Bringing a baby into the world involves many firsts — mothers and fathers are discovering their new roles, babies are learning what it means to live outside the womb, and the family is forging a relationship and bonding. What happens when this time of uncertainty is complicated by medical issues?
Many infants born premature or with other complications often forego their first weeks or months at home for a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit. The NICU is designed to deliver critical medical care to babies in need but can be traumatic for infants and their families, alike. In the Early Childhood Mental Health Program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, clinical psychologists Marian Williams, PhD, Patricia Lakatos, PhD, and a team of infant-family mental health specialists work towards greater mental health awareness in the NICU.
Infants may not be the first age group called to mind in discussions of mental health. Yet, for babies in critical medical condition, Dr. Lakatos says an “infant mental health-informed perspective” could reduce stress and improve bonding with parents. This means not only focusing on the physical needs of the child but also the emotional and mental needs, not an easy task for newborn infants who cannot make their voices heard.