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Infant Mental Health with Dr Sue Jennings reviewed by Roisin O’Byrne

I am currently working as a public health nurse in County Louth. A large part of my role involves supporting breastfeeding mothers and infants. I see mums and babies when they are discharged from maternity/midwifery care. Children are also seen at the four core developmental checks that are offered to all children in Ireland. These checks are an opportunity to provide education and support to parents of young children. I attended the ALCI Conference in October 2021. I found the two talks by Marie Meagher and Rosarii O’Donnell Connorton on Infant Mental Health (IMH) very interesting and they inspired me to seek further training in this area.


I attend a two part online training event with Dr Sue Jennings on the 27th and 28th of November. Dr Sue Jennings is a pioneer of Dramatherapy and Playtherapy in the United Kingdom. She has written a number of books on these subjects. The first day of the course focused on neuro-dramatic play and we participated in a number of exercises that can be used with parents to help reduce anxiety in the pre and postnatal period. These exercises will be very helpful in practice especially with mothers and parents in the community.  As a group we talked about different antenatal techniques that can help reduce anxiety, these included yoga, and breathing exercises and in depth antenatal education.  There can be an assumption from health care professionals that women know how to breastfeed and care for a new-born and we explored how important it is to ensure that all mothers have access to proper antenatal/postnatal education and support. Adult anxiety can affect children so it is important that we understand our own mental health so we can then in turn understand and support our infants’ mental health. We discussed the concepts of nurture and nesting and how these are important for both infants and parents when forming attachments with each other in the first years of life. We discussed the different techniques parents can use during the nesting phase these include rocking, stroking and holding. In the nurture phase it is important for infants to feel safe and for parents to understand the different transitions that happen in the first years of life.


On the second day of the course the group discussed how to talk to mothers using respectful terminology. Different ways of speaking to mothers were outlined, with a focus on sensitivity and creating the right environment to discuss mental health. We also discussed intergenerational trauma and how that can impact mothers’ and infants’ mental health. Another topic that was discussed was birth trauma. We looked at different techniques that can help mothers who experience this type of trauma. These included skin to skin contact, nurturing, debriefing and how to discuss this topic with an older child. Dr Sue explained the different types of play that children engage in and I found this very interesting. For example, dramatic play can include interactive play with a parent and also how a baby imitates their parent’s expressions in the new-born period.

I believe I gained a lot from Dr Sue’s course that can be used in my practice. The different exercises that we did helped me to gain a deeper understanding of my own mental health and how positive support can be so beneficial to parents and children. Being able to have discussions with different professionals around their own experiences with infants’/parents’ mental health was also very valuable. I believe I have achieved a deeper appreciation of the importance of supporting parents and infants’ mental health in the community.


Roisin O’Byrne, December 2021.

Roisin received a bursary of €100 from ALCI to attend Infant Mental Health with Dr Sue Jennings.

Further Reading


Presenting at the ILCA 2023 In-person Conference in Las Vegas:  A Personal Account


ILCA 2023 Conference Presentation: Building Policy Coalitions


WHO/Unicef Congress