Parents Corner

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week: What Do Babies Need Most?


Babies have long been misunderstood. When the field of psychology emerged in the early twentieth century, the earliest psychologists thought maybe infants just needed a reliable food source. Later, psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth first sketched out the idea of “attachment”. Attachment refers to an infant’s need to connect emotionally with their primary caregiver.

Babies know they are at the mercy of an adult to have their needs met. In the first 18 months of life, infants cannot even carry themselves from one place to another, let alone feed themselves! Babies communicate by facial expressions and movements. These “cues” signal an unmet need. For example, a baby may jerk its body and pucker its lips when it needs the breast or bottle.

Babies experience optimal mental and physical health when their parents read their cues and respond appropriately most of the time. Thanks to brain imaging, we now know there is a massive brain growth in the first 5 years. A newborn’s brain weighs around 400 grams (approx. the size of an orange). By the age of 3, the size of a child’s brain has more than doubled to about 1100 grams (approx. the size of a pineapple). Experiencing a warm and responsive relationship with a parent in the early years builds healthy brains.

Parents often feel confused or frustrated when their baby cries, especially when there is a lot of crying! Crying expresses the need for physical and emotional closeness to parents. Babies experience a lot of stress if they are left to cry alone. Large, frequent doses of hormones associated with the stress response, such as cortisol, can interfere with brain growth. Therefore, it is important to minimise stress by responding to baby’s cries promptly whenever possible.

In summary, what a baby needs most is you. If you are struggling with anything mentioned in this article, you can consult an early childhood nurse by calling Tresillian Parent Help Line on 1300 272 73.

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week runs every June to highlight the importance of babies’ emotional wellbeing and development. Find out more at

Article Written + Submitted by

Monica Purcell | Family Facilitator

Nepean Community & Neighbourhood Services


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