Infant Mental Health is the developing capacity of the child from birth to:

  • Experience, express and regulate emotions
  • Form close interpersonal relationships
  • Have a positive sense of self
  • Explore the environment and learn
  • Adapt to their environment

All in the context of relationships, family and community

How does a baby develop good mental health?

  • Having a secure, warm and predictable relationship with their caregiver/s
  • Having their physical care needs met
  • Having their emotional needs responded to sensitively – caregivers are able to think about what the baby might be thinking and feeling rather than just meeting their physical needs in a practical way.
  • A sensitive response might include mirroring or marking the infant through facial expression, soothing, physical touch, or talking to their baby about what is going on.

Using 'serve and return'

Relationships between babies and caregivers are important for building strong brains. Starting from birth, responsive relationships build strong foundations for development through ‘serve-and-return’ interactions.

Serve and return works like a game of tennis between baby and caregiver. The baby “serves” by doing something to reach out to the person they are with—with eye contact, facial expressions, movement, babbling, or touch. A responsive caregiver will “return the serve” by talking back, acknowledging the baby, responding to the baby through their own movements or expressions, and sharing moments of pleasure.

This to-ing and fro-ing of interactions between baby and caregiver creates the building blocks of early brain development. This foundation helps children learn how to manage their emotions, cope with stress, and develop the core skills that they need to learn.

Parents can help babies to grow and thrive by providing lots of serve and return interactions.

If you need further support: 

  • Speak with your Health Visitor if you have any concerns

For further resources

  • AIMH-UK (Association of Infant Mental Health)

Check out these videos on understanding and responding to your baby and taking turns.