Monday, 14 November 2011

Babies count

If there is one thing that has really opened my eyes in relation to rather a lot of things I care about it's the realisation how important the first year is in the development of a human being. Not just the first year of course, but during the first year of life rather a lot happens, and much more than in any other year of anyone's life.

Similarly, the first 3 years are more important than any other 3 years, and set the child off into the world and they will carry this with them for the rest of their lives.

The realisation is scary, because it does put a lot of pressure on parents to get it right. However, it's not about pressure because it doesn't actually take a lot to make sure that this first year turns out well. It is, at the end of the day, about love and affection, responsive care (i.e. reacting to the baby when upset), creating secure attachment by being there, interacting, focusing on the child daily at some point. Talk to, play with and read to your child and you'll be doing just fine. Don't leave them to cry, be close to them, if they need it, carry them.

I didn't know this when I first became a parent. I also didn't know how difficult it is to parent a "high need", "demanding", "colicky", "spirited" baby. All these labels, that came down to a baby that could not ever be in a separate room to me, that would not ever be settled in a bouncy chair, play pen, or even on the floor right beside me. If I'd known then that this is normal for some children and that it will pass, I would have gone with the flow. Instead I worried, I questioned myself, I even got angry with my baby when I was at the end of my tether. It pains me to say this, but I was at stages so distraught by inconsolable crying that I understood how a mother could shake her baby. I never did, but I was at the point where I knew exactly how a parent could shake a baby, a shocking realisation.

Looking back, all we knew about becoming parents was pregnancy and birth. We were thrown into the deep end. I had been an au-pair as a youngster and was confident I'd be doing just fine. I didn't and there was very little support around, very little help on how to parent when you really didn't know how to do it right. Library books and online forums were my saving grace but looking back now with the experience of raising two, and knowing more about how important secure attachment is, I have to say that some of the books to me are now out of bounds. Similarly, some of the advice I was given I even knew at the time was not the right advice for my child.

In a bigger picture, many of the ills of society are rooted in those first 3 years. If a child doesn't have caring parents, it is at high risk of suffering anxiety, depression, or the other end, become aggressive and violent. Substance abuse, crime and vandalism are often explained by a child not having received the love and attention they needed in their first three years.

Because the first year is so important I was more than pleased to hear about NSPCC's new campaign, Babies Count. It highlights how important the first year is as well as that babies are more vulnerable than any other group of people, they are in fact 12 times more likely to be killed than other children in Scotland. It is in this context that the NSPCC has launched the  "All Babies Count " campaign to ensure every baby in Scotland is protected, nurtured and able to thrive.

It's especially more vulnerable babies that are at risk of harm and it's important that every parent receives the support they need. Ultimately, every parent wants the best for their child, but if you are a parent who struggles with mental health problems, domestic violence, drink or drugs, it can be very hard to make sure that babies receive the love and care they need. And the earlier the support kicks in, the better for the baby. "Research shows that when abuse or neglect occurs, babies' development can suffer. The impact of a lack of healthy interaction with parents and other carers in the first year of life is particularly acute and can cause long-term damage to physical and mental health."

As part of the campaign, NSPCC is calling on the Scottish Government to

1. Place the promotion of infant mental health and development at the heart of the National Parenting Strategy, ensuring there is a focus on securing positive parent-child attachment.

2. Review the level and consistency of early year’s services across Scotland, highlighting good practice as well as gaps in provision.

3. Incentivise the reallocation of resources at a local level in effective and evidence-based early interventions, so the aims of the Spending Review can be realised locally.

The charity is making plans to offer a range of services to protect babies and support parents. 
You can join the campaign and make your voice count by signing up through the website, liking the organisation on facebook and following them on Twitter. If you have a concern about a child, you can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000. search for ‘NSPCC Scotland’


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