This site is intended for health professionals only

Parents to be supported to strengthen bonds with their baby

Parents to be supported to strengthen bonds with their baby

Over two-thirds (73%) of parents would welcome support in nurturing their connection with their baby, and over a third (41%) are unaware that mental health starts to impact a child’s development before they reach the age of two, a survey commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has found.

The finding was released along with the announcement of Start for Life’s ‘if they could tell you’ campaign, which will aim to help parents to bond with their child and better understand their baby’s needs. Parents will be supported in interpreting the babies’ behaviour such as their cries and other expressions that may be a useful indication of a baby’s mental wellbeing as well as the care they need day to day.

The survey of 2,000 parents also found that many believed that some parenting advice they had heard of, such as letting the baby ‘cry it out’ (53%) and limiting physical affection (52%) to avoid the baby becoming clingy, was now outdated.

At the same time, health visitors and other practitioners are being encouraged by DHSC to adopt a three-step framework, including three prompt questions, to help promote reflective conversations with parents about the relationship they have with their baby, so they can offer support if needed.

The recommended questions outlined in the guidance, Parent-infant relationships: starting relationships, are:

  • What three words or phrases would you use to describe your relationship with your baby?
  • What brings you the most joy in the relationship with your baby?
  • What is your biggest fear about your relationship with your baby?

This approach is derived from the Leeds Early Attachment Observation (EAO) tool, developed by the Leeds Infant Mental Health Service (Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust) in collaboration with Leeds Health Visiting Service.

Emotional development in the early years is critical and reduces the likelihood of mental health difficulties in their lives, said DHSC.

Launching the new initiative, Dame Andrea Leadsom, Minister for Public Health, Start for Life and Primary Care, said: ‘We are committed to giving every baby the best start in life, and promoting that vital secure attachment between babies and their parents in the 1,001 critical days from pregnancy to 2 years old is crucial for their future wellbeing.

‘Speaking with parents across the country, I’ve heard first-hand that they need more support around how to better build those connections. Parents can access a range of support and advice, in person via family hubs and on the Start for Life website.

‘We are also launching new guidance for frontline practitioners, aimed at helping them to start conversations with parents about building their relationship with their baby.’

The campaign aimed parents in England will be supported by information on the Start for Life website. A family hubs and Start for Life programme was launched by government in 2022 and runs until March 2025.

Three steps for asking parents about the relationship with their baby

Step 1: starting the conversation The first step of the framework looks at introducing the three questions to start the conversation about the relationship they have with their baby and asking consent to ask them.

Step 2: identifying potential strengths and areas of need

This step of the framework looks at further exploring the answers the caregiver gave in step 1, especially if the answers raised concerns for you. This step of the framework covers the use of clinically validated assessment tools to investigate further.

Step 3: signposting, referring or providing further support

The final step of the framework looks at referring families and caregivers for additional support if you think it is appropriate.



See how our symptom tool can help you make better sense of patient presentations
Click here to search a symptom