Communicating with babies

Mum looks into infant's eyes

How you communicate with your baby is really important, particularly when you're unwell.

Understanding your symptoms and behaviours

Emotions, behaviour and moods affect how you view yourself and how others view you. They also affect your relationships with others, including your baby.

When you are unwell, it is important to be aware of how your symptoms (which can influence your behaviour, facial expressions and tone of voice) affect your child.

An important first step in preparing to think about this is to reflect on the symptoms you experience, the behaviours that your baby sees and hears and how these might affect how your baby feels. You can do this with a partner, a friend, a health professional or on your own. COPMI's factsheet 'Communicating with your baby when you have a mental illness' includes a useful reflective exercise to help.

As a parent it can be very challenging to think about how your baby might view what is happening. It might be useful to talk with your health professional or another support person about the impact of your mental illness on your role as a parent.

Father holding infant

Understanding what your baby notices and experiences

Babies might not understand everything you say, but they are very sensitive and responsive to your emotions and your tone of voice. You might notice that when you are struggling with your moods and emotions your baby's responses may also change. What would help them to feel connected with you when you aren't feeling well?

Communicating when you're unwell

You don't need to explain mental illness to your baby.

When you are with your baby, it is important to find ways to connect to them to help them feel nurtured and secure.

 

Some tips include:

 

  • Smile when you look at your baby.
  • Maintain eye contact with your baby until they look away.
  • Hold your baby close and cuddle them.
  • Gently rock your baby an talk in a soothing voice when they are upset.
  • Use a watm, calm, 'sing-song' voice when you speak to your baby.
  • Smile and nod when your baby makes sounds.
  • Encourage your baby's little noises by repeating their sounds back to them when they finish their 'sentence' to create your own two-way 'conversation'.

Where possible, attend to your own feelings first, before interacting with your baby. You could even ask someone you trust to be with your baby while you rest until you’re able to interact with them.

When you're ready, you can try reassuring your baby by saying something with a calm, soothing voice and gentle face, such as: 'Mummy/Daddy is feeling sad right now, but I love looking at you and seeing you look back at me.'

You can show your baby you care, and help them feel protected and safe by doing the following:

  • Maintaining eye contact until they look away
  • Smiling when you look at them
  • Hold your baby close and cuddle them
  • Give your baby a massage
  • Gently rock your baby and talk in a soothing voice when they are upset
  • Using a warm, calm, sing-song voice when you speak to them
  • Smile and nod when your baby makes sounds
  • Reacting to them positively (e.g. encouraging their little noises)
  • Repeating their sounds back to them when they finish their ‘sentence’ to create your own two-way 'conversation’.

 

Other age groups below:

 

Videos for young people

Young people explain to others what mental illness is and how to understand symptoms a parent may experience.