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 can influence your behaviour, facial expressions and tone of voice. These are the changes that will be noticed by your baby.
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 (see link below).
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.
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.
Take time to listen and watch your baby’s way of communicating with you. If you are having difficulty reading or understanding their signals, seek advice from a health or early childhood worker or a Child Familiy Health Nurse.
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. You might find information from the Raising Children Network website useful: http://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/babies.html. There is also a parent helpline in each Australian State. Locate yours in your telephone directory or visit: https://www.parentline.com.au/.
Babies: babies cry and sometimes it can be hard to understand their distress. Your baby will be looking for you to respond.
Parents: parents can find a distressed or crying baby increases their own stress. When this happens take a moment to try and manage your own feelings before soothing your upset baby. Use a quiet reassuring voice as you move closer to be with your baby.
Your relationship with your baby: parents sometimes feel they cannot understand their child’s needs. If you are feeling overwhelmed by your babies needs, set a time when you can find someone you trust to be with your baby while you take a break. You can use this time to relax or to call the Parent Helpline, talk to a Child Family Health Nurse or your doctor.
Communicating with your baby to support a nurturing connection
When you are with your baby it is important to find ways to connect with 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 and talk in a soothing voice when they are upset.
- use a warm, 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’.
Download a three-page factsheet with this information.