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Why 'Infant Mental Health'?
Why is our mental health during infancy important for our whole lives?

3 Caregiver sensitivity to the infant

Research, which until recently has focused largely on mothers, demonstrates the importance of all caregivers being sensitive and responsive to their babies. Indeed, sensitivity is one of the key factors influencing an infant’s attachment to the caregiver.

When studies compare achievements of children of any age, on any aspect of child development, the sensitivity and responsivity of their primary caregiver in the first year of the baby’s life, explains more of the difference between the children’s achievements than anything else.

What does being ‘attuned’ or ‘sensitive’ to the baby mean?

It means that the baby is always somewhere in the caregiver’s mind, whatever else they are doing; caregivers respond sensitively to the baby without consciously thinking about it.

Caregiver ‘attunement’ is helped by the baby’s instinctive behaviours, such as clinging and sucking and, in time, smiling.

  • No-one can be sensitive to another person all of the time
  • No-one can always be responsive. 
  • No caregiver is perfect. 
Baby held by parents and looking at them. © Olga Ternavskaia

But, the more a baby experiences caregivers as attentive to their needs, responsive to their feelings, quick to soothe when they are afraid, or feed before hunger reaches panic-levels, the more settled a baby will be. 

Through the baby’s experience of attuned and sensitive caregiving, the baby begins to learn to trust that adults will respond when the baby needs them, and that caregivers are a ‘secure base’ from which the baby can begin to explore the world.

Over time, the baby will begin to understand their emotions, enabling them to flourish today, and build the resources to cope with difficulties tomorrow.

Daws, 2015

‘Getting to know your baby’ – selected AiMH videos:

Your baby – Early Interactions – Understanding and Responding

Sensitive responding to the infant, using voice and touch, are important to enable a baby to develop a secure attachment to their primary caregivers. Caregiver sensitivity involves responding to an infant’s distress in a way that is both timely (when the baby is most distressed), and also appropriately. This video illustrates the ways in which parents show understanding and responsiveness.

AiMH has created an ‘Key concepts’ information sheet for members, on ‘Attunement’:

Download “Attunement – Getting to know your baby M34 – Key concepts” gtkyb-m34-key-concepts-attunement.pdf – Downloaded 199 times – 605 KB

Your Baby – Early Interactions – Taking Turns and Rupture and Repair

Taking Turns and Rupture and Repair shows the way in which babies and their caregivers engage in the sort of conversational turn-taking that happens between adults. The video shows mothers and babies experiencing moments of synchrony (also known as attunement). This powerful human connection stimulates intense brain activity, after which babies often need to  turn away for a ‘break’.  In the last part of this video clip, you can see how mum waits for baby to return to the interaction, and how attunement is restored.

Your Baby – Sleeping and Soothing – Soothing

There are lots of ways in which a parent can soothe a baby, and it is important for caregivers to identify what works best for their baby. This video shows some of the different ways in which babies can be soothed.