Coronavirus Northern Ireland: Parents of infants urged to look after their own wellbeing

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Thursday, May 21st, 2020

The Public Health Agency (PHA) is reminding parents to be kind to themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in turn they will be helping to protect their infant’s mental health.

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Infant mental health is the term used to describe the capacity of a child, during the first three years of life.

It is the capacity to: form close relationships; recognise and express emotions; and explore and learn about their environment.


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Deirdre McAliskey, from National Children’s Bureau in Northern Ireland, told Newry Times, “During pregnancy and infancy, it is obvious how physically reliant babies are on their parents and caregivers.

“They are also socially and emotionally connected to us.

“The way we interact with babies and infants shapes their brain development.

“This occurs particularly during pregnancy and continues up to the age of three years when our brains are growing at the fastest rate.

“We now know that ‘mirror neurons’ in the brain mean that how we act and interact with our children explains their ‘copy-cat’ behaviours.

“It all sounds like a huge responsibility but in fact, it’s the small, day-to-day interactions with babies and infants that make the greatest difference,” she explained.

Babies explore the world around them to see what happens, how things work, and where they fit in.



They cry, smile, make eye contact, babble, or stretch out arms.

In return, parents offer physical touch and comfort, calm tone of voice, eye contact, smiles, repeated words, and praise.



When the response is positive and meet their needs, babies develop trust, attachment, and confidence in their parents.

Pregnancy and early parenthood can be exhausting, at the best of times never mind during the challenging circumstances of COVID-19.

Trying to meet the constant demands of your children during lockdown means intense feelings are inevitable.



It’s the ability to repair when things go wrong, with a hug or cuddle by soothing pain, hurt, or anxiety that makes the difference.

Being consistent and predictable in our responses most of the time is a positive.

Maurice Meehan, Head of Health Improvement for the Northern area at the PHA, said, “To be able to deal with challenges of parenthood, we need to be kind to ourselves.

“Practise self-compassion, self-care and self-forgiveness when you fail to live up to your own expectations.

“Your children don’t need perfect parents – they just need good enough ones!

“Look after yourself as best you can. That might mean taking a longer shower when you get the chance, enjoying a cup of tea, spending a few minutes in the garden if you can, or just having a chat with a trusted friend.



Maurice adds, “Don’t feel the need to take on extra challenges, or be highly productive.”

For further information on support available see:


Keep up to date with all the latest Northern Ireland Coronavirus / Covid-19 news HERE


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