Caring for the mental health of mothers and disabled babies

Categories: Care.

Peter Limbrick from TAC (Team Around the Child) has written a thought provoking article that looks at concerns about the mental health of disabled babies and their mothers. He asks, ‘Are we helping or hindering?’ with our present day approaches.  

The article is written from a UK perspective but highlights something that should be of global concern. In the writer’s experience after the birth of a baby with disabilities little attention is paid to the mental health of the baby, mother and other close family members. He lists a number of concerns related to this experience, including the following:

  • Parents being overwhelmed with negative emotions, including guilt and grief over the loss of the birth of a ‘perfect baby’. 
  • Numerous interventions that interfere with the development of the bond between a mother and her child. The separation that often occurs makes normal things like cuddling, feeding and holding the baby very difficult which in turn leads to feelings of incompetence and lack of confidence.
  • Multiple disruptions to the normal routines that assist parents to get to know their baby and improve their parenting skills

The article suggests practitioners take the mental health of babies and mothers into account when decisions need to be made on how to provide medical interventions. He also suggest the appointment of a special nurse to help the family make sense of all that is happening and to build a coherent picture about the baby’s condition, treatment and prognosis, particularly important when the child has a multifaceted condition which would require the involvement of numerous consultants, nurses and specialists. 

While the physical health of the baby remains paramount, the article asks for a reduction in the practice of asking parents to be therapists thus diverting family time into treatment time and often adding to a mother’s stress and sense of failure. It also suggests making the mother-child relationship paramount and letting the first ‘Team Around the Child’ be just three people – mother, baby and one trusted and familiar practitioner who has time to listen as the mother adjusts to this unexpected situation in her life. This person could act as an intermediary for the essential interventions and help the mother decide when she is ready for the team to expand to more people.

The article ends with this call to increase the link between those in the world of early childhood intervention with those in the world of mental health: “In conclusion, given that we all have different areas of knowledge, experience and expertise, I want to advocate for a much busier bridge linking practitioners in the world of early childhood intervention with those in the world of mental health.”

Peter Limbrick, the article’s author and founder of TAC, is keen to hear from anyone who has conducted relevant research in this area and to hear of examples of good practice in any country. Comments from parents would also be welcomed. Peter can be reached on the email: peter.limbrick@teamaroundthechild.com

Click here to read the full article.