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Why Perinatal and Infant Mental Health?

Marmot (2010)1 identified that in order to reduce future social and health inequalities we need to give every child the best start in life, and this reflects the view that the origins of much adult disease lie in the ‘developmental and biological disruptions occurring during the early years of life’ and more specifically to ‘the biological embedding of adversities during sensitive developmental periods’.2

Both perinatal and infant mental health are therefore major public health issues, and perinatal and infant mental health services are aimed at giving every child the best start in life by promoting the wellbeing of parents and their babies across the perinatal period, in addition to the early identification and treatment of problems that complicate pregnancy and the post-partum year.

For many families, standard perinatal services will help steer them through the life-changing transition to parenthood, while for others the path maybe more complicated and require a greater intensity of specialised services and support. Whatever the level of need, the economic case for providing effective services throughout this period is compelling3, and the commissioning of services to achieve these ends is supported by a range of policy documents emphasising the importance of early intervention, and highlighting the opportunities afforded by the perinatal period.

The perinatal and infant mental health pathway described is both evidence-based in that it is underpinned by research about ‘what works’ during this period, and also includes a focus on primary prevention. This goes beyond the traditional focus on the immediate perinatal period to include preconception services that are aimed at building early resilience and self-respect in young people, and developing the foundations for healthy and respectful relationships that form the basis for later perinatal wellbeing. The pathway continues through pregnancy and the postnatal period until the infant is one year.

The goals of promotion, prevention and treatment during this important period require the commissioning of a diverse range of services, alongside high standards of service delivery and care.

This perinatal and infant mental health pathway has been developed to support the work of both practitioners working directly with infants and their parents, and managers and commissioners who have the remit of ensuring that the health, social care and public health services necessary to give every child the best start in life, are in place.