The word ‘neonatal’ means newborn, or the first 28 days of life - every second of those days are precious, critical and ultimately, consequential. Most parents hope that they will be able to spend this time at home with baby - exploring and defining their parental roles, bonding, and facilitating babies life outside the womb but for an abundance of families this is not feasible.
Many babies are not born with the capacity to enjoy their first weeks, even months outside of a neonatal unit (NICU). They may have been born prematurely, with a medical condition necessitating treatment, or even a low birthweight. The NICU is a place for the most vulnerable and ill infants. The experience is traumatic for parents and babies, alike. Yet, for babies in critical medical condition, Patricia Lakatos, PhD and Marian Williams, PhD of the Early Childhood Mental Health Program at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles believe it is imperative to become conscious of the mental and emotional needs of baby - asserting their our implications on their mental health.
Science Daily, explores the issue of mental health in these babies, with the Los Angeles hospital team. More pointedly, Lakatos states, "infant mental health-informed perspective" could reduce stress and improve bonding with parents. This means focusing on the physical needs of the child but also their psychological well being. Not entirely simple, without the use of babies words. Another monumental component being studied is the relationship between parent and baby. Presently, most mental health work in NICUs focus on either the mental health of parents or on the baby's development.
Many parents of children in intensive care units experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress, which can threaten bonding with a newborn baby. The mental health team turned to a model of intervention which in the past, has demonstrated success within families experiencing upheaval or suffering. Child-Parent Psychotherapy or CPP addresses the parent-child relationship directly, nurturing and advocating for it in its own right. Drs. Williams and Lakatos, and the team were able to adapt CPP to the NICU setting at Children's Hospital, Los Angeles.
The CPP model can be used to nurture developing infant-parent relationships in the NICU although it is yet to be commonly integrated within the system. CPP is a flexible model that has multiple levels of intervention, depending upon individual family needs - parents and babies, working alongside medical and social workers.
Dr. Williams, sees clinical psychologists in a necessary, complementary role. "These babies are eventually going home," she says. "They are missing out on their bonding time, but there is great potential for resilience. Being mindful of the stressors these families are facing helps them feel understood and can set them on a positive trajectory."