Blackpool Better Start launches Community Baby Showers to support Infant Mental Health Awareness Week

Hannah Connell, External Affairs Manager at the Blackpool Centre for Early Child Development, discusses Blackpool Better Start’s recent baby showers which engaged the local community in the important messages of Infant Mental Health Awareness Week.

Hannah Connell

Every June, Blackpool Better Start looks for new and innovative ways to mark Infant Mental Health Awareness Week to highlight the importance of babies’ mental health and wellbeing with local parents and professionals. This year the awareness week - organised by the Parent Infant Foundation - ran from 12th - 18th June and the theme was 'Bonding before Birth'.

The concept of infant mental health is a difficult one; It can sometimes be perceived as having negative connotations, so it was important to us to decipher these messages into a friendly, positive experience for our Blackpool families.

With this in mind, we organised a week of 'Baby Showers' in local community locations and invited expectant parents and relevant services to attend. We know our community respond well to a "light touch" and the success of events like these often rests with offering families a friendly and inviting space where we can then deliver more targeted messages. The Baby Showers offered parents-to-be the opportunity to have a professional bump photo shoot, as well as a goody bag filled with baby essentials and signposting literature, including a timetable of baby activities taking place at Family Hubs. We also included a book we created called 'Hello Little One' which parents can read to their unborn child and record their hopes and dreams about their baby.

The bump photo shoot proved to be a successful hook for engagement, and throughout the week 43 pregnant women attended with partners, family members and friends. In addition to this, local services such as Maternity, antenatal course Baby Steps, infant feeding service Henry, the Parent Infant Relationship Service, Community Connectors and Sling Library were also present to chat to families about the support that is available to them. We were also incredibly fortunate to receive a significant product donation from Lidl which included nappies, wipes, and a selection of baby clothes.

Families who attended the events ended up staying for a few hours, and as well as taking part in a photo shoot and having a chat to services, it also provided a brilliant opportunity to meet other expectant parents. It was heart-warming to see people swapping phone numbers and making plans to meet in the future! One pregnant mum told me that she was not going to have a baby shower as she didn't have many friends, and she was very thankful and excited to be able to attend ours.

By providing this friendly and welcoming space, engagement with services was very successful too. Baby Steps signed up over 20 new families to attend their antenatal education programme, and the Community Connector team imparted cost of living support as well as bundles of baby clothes donated by local clothing bank, Baby Rover.

We have received fantastic feedback from both families and services, and there has been requests from Maternity Services to make this a more regular event throughout the year. Despite Infant Mental Health Awareness Week being over for this year, I think our concept of the baby shower events - and the opportunities these provide our community and local services - has only just begun.

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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Visit the A Better Start website to find out more.