Baby blues can affect even the smallest patients

Deborah O'Dea, perinatal and infant mental health specialist health visitor for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, with one of her young patients
Deborah O'Dea, perinatal and infant mental health specialist health visitor for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, with one of her young patients
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Mental health problems might be largely thought of as an adult issue.

But a St Annes health worker wants to highlight the fact they can affect even the youngest of patients – babies.

And Deborah O’Dea is developing new and improved mental health services for babies and mothers in Blackpool and further afield.

The resort has higher than average levels of peri-natal depression, as well as mental health issues after pregnancy.

Deborah – who works as a perinatal and infant mental health specialist health visitor for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – said: “We know from the work we’re doing, approximately 33 per cent of women in the Blackpool area suffer with perinatal depression – depression during pregnancy and in the first postnatal year.

“The average for the rest of England is between 10 to 20 per cent.

“Social deprivation, unemployment, teenage pregnancy, domestic violence, a high divorce rate and the fact it is one of the most densely populated areas in England are all factors. All these issues are being tackled by the local authorities and health trust.

“We are very fortunate in this area as we have a dedicated perinatal midwife and health visitor, as well as two adult mental health nurses.

“But if depression in a parent is not identified early, the outcomes for children of any age can be compromised.

“We start to see signs of behavioural issues and depressive symptoms.

“Depressed parents can produce depressed children.”

Deborah, who was recently made a Fellow of the Institute of Health Visiting, says it is vital parents get help if they are feeling depressed.

“Parents are the first teachers.

“If you are a mum or dad and you don’t smile at your baby, your child may have difficulty learning to interact with those around them.

“An emotionally neglected baby may show a lack of eye contact – particularly with the mum or carers – a baby we would describe as ‘flat’.

“Babies communicate through facial expressions, body language, with the sounds they make such as cooing, crying and whimpering. They also use their hands. Fists can be open and relaxed when the baby is ready to engage in an interaction or tightly clenched when they’re overwhelmed, angry or upset.”

All health visitors who work for the trust are trained in the ‘Brazelton Technique’ and ‘Hello Baby’ method. Both techniques help parents to ‘read’ their babies’ cues and enhance the parent-infant relationship.

Deborah created ‘Hello Baby’ when she was working at the Talbot and Brunswick Children’s Centre – to show parents how to understand their children before they can speak.

She said: “We know from research attachment and bonding is essential for optimal child development.

“Evidence from brain scans of young children who have suffered emotional neglect shows there are structural changes to the brain.

“When children are interacting their synapses are firing. Children who have not had the chance to interact do not have that. If you are a baby and you are not cuddled, or communicated with in an empathic way, that part of your brain development may be missing.

“We can work with parents to repair the damage.

“Everyone in the team is trained to identify women at risk of perinatal depression during and after pregnancy. We try to catch it early and those who need it are referred to the Adult Mental Health team.

“Some people feel there is a stigma when it comes to mental health problems and parenthood.

“If you have mental health issues this does not mean you will be a bad parent. We work with many fantastic parents.”

* Anyone who feels they need help should speak to their GP, health visitor or midwife.