The first 1,001 days of being a parent are the most significant in a child’s development. It can also present some of the most challenging moments for parents, particularly for those living with poor mental health, who are isolated, or are dealing with other struggles. External pressures, like the cost of living crisis, are adding to stress faced by many young families.

In Northern Ireland, Home-Start Armagh and Dungannon, Banbridge and Newry & Mourne joined forces with the Southern Trusts Parenting Partnership to provide a face-to-face package of support to first-time parents and their babies under the age of one.

They created a 19 week programme to provide mums with a supportive social network and the tools to listen and respond to their babies, as Home-Start Newry & Mourne manager, Bevin O’Hare explains.

“We saw the lasting impact of the Covid pandemic with isolated mums living with anxiety and low mood. This was exacerbated by the lack of opportunity for face-to-face engagement.

Without the mum and babies groups they’d been deprived of the opportunity to meet other mums and build up supportive connections in their local communities.”

The Home-Starts and the Parenting Partnership submitted an application through the local Child Development Intervention Coordinator with the Public Health Agency, to secure funding to run four programmes across each of the Home-Starts. The programme included baby massage, sensory play and sleep workshops. 

The demand was greater than anticipated and extra funding was secured at a local level through the Southern Trust for two additional programmes. Ros Ewing, Home-Start Armagh and Dungannon manager said:

“Thankfully we secured extra funding for additional programmes, but we could have tripled the programme and still not met the demand. So we had to focus on the mums who were most in need of this type of intervention.

For some of the mums, attending a group like this takes a lot of courage so we all worked to remove every possible barrier that may have prevented them from attending. We provided transport, lunch and offered them the moral support of the coordinator or volunteer if they didn’t want to attend alone. We did everything possible to make the group a warm, friendly, safe space for them.”

Donna Neill, Home-Start Banbridge manager describes the difference this type of early intervention makes to new mums mental and physical wellbeing.

“Over the course of the 19 weeks it was incredible to see mums grow in confidence and build their own supportive networks. The mums have all set up a WhatsApp group providing ongoing peer support that has continued beyond the 19 week programme. It’s also wonderful for the babies who’ll have their own social interactions with babies their own age.

One of the mums felt she needed counselling and more intensive support prior to the programme, but by the end she no longer felt like she needed it. By attending a safe space and finding friendship and support, feelings of anxiety and low mood can improve without the need for clinical and more intensive intervention.”

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