Better Start To Life – Parent/Infant Relationships

Better Start To Life – Parent/Infant Relationships

In March 2024, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), in collaboration with the Department for Education, launched the Better Health Start for Life – ‘If They Could Tell You…’ campaign, which aims to support parents to build a strong bond with their baby. 

Start for Life’s ‘If They Could Tell You…’ campaign is an ongoing campaign aimed at helping parents understand their baby’s needs, enabling them to foster strong relationships. For the latest advice on how best to build your relationship with your baby, you can find support and free resources, including tips and learning materials, at the Start for Life Hub. #StartForLife

We know that what happens during the first few years of life (starting in the womb) has lifelong effects on many aspects of health and wellbeing – from obesity, heart disease and mental wellbeing, to educational achievement and economic status. These first few years of a baby’s life, spanning from pregnancy to the age of two, are crucial for their healthy development. During this time, the connections formed between parents and carers and their babies foster a sense of love and security, laying the groundwork for their future well-being and mental health. Parental behaviours impact heavily on their child’s behaviours. Parents’ health can act as an enabler or barrier to nurturing their children’s development.

New attitudinal data reveals that over a third (41%) of parents in England are unaware that their baby’s mental health starts to impact their development before they are two. Babies may not come with a manual, but they certainly work hard to make themselves understood. Their expressions, reactions, noises, and cries are the ways they communicate their needs and feelings and can be an indication of their mental wellbeing.  Knowing how to interpret their body language, facial expressions, noises, and cries can help parents to effectively meet their needs.

Here are some tips for parents to help interpret cues and build strong connections with your baby:

Mirror your baby’s reactions and emotions – You can mirror your baby’s reactions and emotions – such as smiling back if they have bright eyes – as this shows them that it’s OK to express those emotions. 

Comfort your baby when they are crying – If your baby is crying, try soothing them with gentle rocking, speaking softly, or singing to them.

Enjoy playing face-to-face with your baby in everyday moments – This can be as simple as saying what they do and name what they see, as you’re going about your routine.

Let your baby take breaks when they need them – Show them that it’s ok if they need to try something different, or to just to rest.

Some parents might expect an instant bond with their baby, but if it doesn’t happen straight away, it’s okay. It can take time to build that bond and there are simple things you can do to strengthen your connection, like cuddling, skin-to-skin, feeding, comforting, and playing together.

Parents often feel pressure to ‘get it right’ all the time. But babies don’t need us to get it right all the time. We might not always respond as patiently and warmly as we would like. After all, caring for a baby can be a challenge, especially when we are tired.

What is important is trying to re-connect with your baby when you can. Babies will then learn that your relationship is strong, and you will be there, even after things have been tough. Looking, listening, and warmly responding to your baby may seem small, but it makes a big difference to their future wellbeing.

Research shows that becoming a parent presents an opportunity to provide information to support behaviour change, and that when looking for information and advice people want validated sources of authority, such as the NHS. This puts the Start for Life Email Programme in a unique position within a very crowded market of pregnancy and parenting advice.

The Start for Life Email Programme is a universal offering, for all parents-to-be and parents of children up to four and a half years old. The service provides regular emails to the audience as their child reaches key milestones.

The Start for Life Email Programme has a particular focus on those from less socioeconomically privileged backgrounds, as we know that they are much less likely to be searching for and accessing reliable information on pregnancy and parenting. Healthcare professionals are also a target audience as they are a key channel for driving people to Start for Life services.

The email programme can be translated into dozens of different languages, provides personalised messaging that is time sensitive and served to parents and carers as and when they need it, according to their parenting/caring journey. Encourage parents and carers to sign up now.

  • NHS Start for Life: Alongside new advice on parent-infant relationships, there is information on your mental health and newborn and baby sleeping – relevant topics for supporting parent-infant relationships.
  • BBC – Tiny Happy People: A collection of articles with ideas on how to build a bond with your baby, based on expert advice and evidence. Their ideas and activities are easy to build into your daily routine. They’re quick and inspiring, but they’re also based on expert advice and evidence, and are proven to help your child’s development.
  • Royal Foundation: ‘Shaping Us’ is a campaign for early childhood that aims to transform the issue from one of scientific interest to one of the most strategically important topics of our time.
  • Solihull Online Antenatal Course: A free course titled ‘Understanding pregnancy, labour, birth and your baby’ is available for anyone living in the UK, which features information about developing a relationship with your baby.