Infant mental health

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Infant mental health is the study of mental health as it applies to infants, toddlers, and their families. The field investigates optimal social and emotional development of infants and their families in the first three years of life. Cognitive development, and the development of motor skills may also be considered part of the infant mental health picture. While the interest in the mental life of infants in the context of their early relationships can be traced back to the work of Anna Freud, John Bowlby, and Donald Winnicott in Great Britain, infant mental health as a movement of public health policy, empirical research (i.e. baby-watching), and change in clinical practice paralleled both that of the women's movement and of increased awareness of the prevalence and consequences of child abuse and neglect during the 1960s and 1970s.[1][2] The vast literature that has emerged since the field's origins has been reviewed in several key texts.[3][4][5] Basic principles of infant mental health evaluation and treatment involve consideration of at least three patients: parent(s), child, and their relationship, while keeping in mind the rapid and formative development of the brain and mind in the first years of life.[6][7]


Worldwide, the World Association for Infant Mental Health (WAIMH) and its affiliates are active in addressing infant mental health concerns, and work toward ongoing scientific and clinical study of the infant's development and its impact on later development. The WAIMH organizes a world congress in even years.

In the United States, the organization Zero-to-Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families also plays an important role in research and advocacy for infants and toddlers. Zero-to-Three was responsible for creating the Diagnostic Classification: 0-3 (DC:0-3) and more recently a revised version (DC:0-3R) that allows mental health professionals to give a mental health diagnosis to infants, toddlers, and their relationships with their caregivers when suffering and dysfunction reach a level suggestive of psychopathology that requires intervention.[8] Supported by empirical research, Zero-to-Three and WAIMH have both advocated for the notion that just because babies can not tell you their symptoms, does not mean that they do not suffer from mental health problems. A number of states have infant mental health organizations affiliated with WAIMH and Zero-to-Three.

These organizations publish newsletters and journals such as "Zero to Three" and organize conferences and training events for individuals working with young children and their families.

The "Infant Mental Health Journal" is published by Wiley and owned by the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health.

Infant mental health most often implies interdisciplinary practice that began with the work of Selma Fraiberg among others. Infant mental health practitioners provide relationship-focused interventions to parents, foster parents, and other primary caregivers together with their infants and toddlers. Support and mental health care when indicated is offered to help the parents engage with their infants and toddlers and to better understand the unresolved losses from their past in order to be more emotionally available to them. One chief goal of infant mental health intervention is to attain a more satisfying relationship between the parent(s) and infant/toddler as well as greater attachment security.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Steele BF (1986). Notes on the lasting effects of early child abuse throughout the life cycle. Child Abuse Negl. 10(3):283-91.
  2. ^ Zeanah CH, Anders TF, Seifer R, Stern DN (1989). Implications of research on infant development for psychodynamic theory and practice. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 28(5):657-68.
  3. ^ Call JD, Galenson E, Tyson RL (1985). Frontiers of Infant Psychiatry. New York: Basic Books, Inc.
  4. ^ Osofsky JD, Fitzgerald HD (1999). WAIMH Handbook of Infant Mental Health: Perspectives on Infant Mental Health. New York: Wiley, Inc.
  5. ^ Zeanah CH (2012). Handbook of Infant Mental Health—3rd Edition. New York: Guilford Press, Inc.
  6. ^ Thomas JM, Benham AL, Gean M, Luby J, Minde K, Turner S, Wright HH (1997). Practice parameters for the psychiatric assessment of infants and toddlers (0-36 months). American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 36(10 Suppl):21S-36S.
  7. ^ Schechter DS, Willheim E (2009). When parenting becomes unthinkable: Intervening with traumatized parents and their toddlers. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 48(3), 249-254.
  8. ^ Zero-to-Three: National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families (2005). Diagnostic Classification: 0-3 Revised (DC:0-3R). Washington, D.C.: Zero-to-Three Press, Inc.
  9. ^ Lieberman AF, Weston DR, Pawl JH (1991). Preventive intervention and outcome with anxiously attached dyads.Child Dev. 62(1):199-209.

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