The next section explores the complementary benefits of healthy eating and being active for promoting mental health and wellbeing and building social connections.
Mental health benefits
- Adopting healthy behaviours early in life reduces the risk of overweight and obesity – being a healthy weight has a positive effect on mental health and supports children to thrive.1
- Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of parents can have a significant and lasting benefit to the mental health and wellbeing of their children.2
- Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruit, and low in non-core food and drinks is associated with better mental health among both children and adults.1
- Outdoor family time, such as pram walking and active play, creates opportunities for physical activity and offers additional mental health benefits through social and community connection.
- Healthy eating and being active (at least 60 minutes per week) can reduce the risk of depression among adults.3 This is important during the perinatal period, as one in five mothers and one in ten fathers in Australia may experience depression and anxiety.4
Building social connection
- INFANT helps to connect new parents, providing social and community connection – the group-based format of INFANT is a “relaxed, friendly environment that encourage(s) peer discussion, social connections and trust.”5
“I find if parents are able to share their ideas and what has worked for them, they are often more likely to believe and take on ideas from their peers than an “expert” so encouraging this sort of discussion is a really important part of programs.” – INFANT training participant.
- Engaging new parents in early parenting programs connects families with local health services and can help them to access other services at the right time.
“There are so many isolated young mums out there. So I really try and hone in on the playgroup aspect and all the different services… like there’s been one lady, she sort of needed a little bit of extra support, and I sort of said to her that I thought it would be really good if she was to speak to her maternal health nurse and see if she could get some extra support.” – INFANT Program facilitator.
1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) (2020). Australia’s children. Cat. no. CWS 69. Canberra: AIHW. aihw.gov.au/reports/children-youth/australias-children
2. Rioseco, P., Warren, D. & Daraganova, G. (2020). Children’s social-emotional wellbeing: the role of parenting, parents’ mental health and health behaviours. Australian Institute of Family Studies: Canberra. aifs.gov.au/publications/childrens-social-emotional-wellbeing
3. Department of Health (2020). Co-benefits of a healthy lifestyle for mental wellbeing. Victorian Government: Melbourne. health.vic.gov.au/population-health-systems/co-benefits-of-a-healthy-lifestyle-for-mental-wellbeing
4. PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting Australia (PwC Australia) (2019). The cost of perinatal depression and anxiety in Australia. perinatalwellbeingcentre.org.au/cost-of-perinatal-depression-and-anxiety-in-australia
5. Love, P., Laws, R., Litterbach, E., & Campbell, K. (2018). Factors Influencing Parental Engagement in an Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Program Implemented at Scale: The Infant Program. Nutrients, 10(4), 509. MDPI AG. dx.doi.org/10.3390/nu10040509
Submit a comment to share your experiences of how parenting groups such as INFANT can help to improve mental health and wellbeing and build social connection among parents. Have there been any comments from parents about benefits to their mental wellbeing or social networks as a result of attending an INFANT group program?
Read the comments from others and replies from the INFANT team. Click the ‘mark complete’ button when you’re ready, then select ‘next lesson’ for the next step.
Our parents are really enjoying catching up with their first parent group peers in the 2nd infant sessions. After so long in lockdown the importance of socialising has been made very clear.
Since INFANT has opened to beyond New Parent Groups, it has been an easy way to include others from the community to join the original group in the later stages. Recently I have had new parents attend the INFANT sessions that are “new to town”. Due to the open discussion style of INFANT, they have felt connected, and it has made a positive impact on these families in particular.
The group setting is a great way for families to connect and they are always eager to explore and share their experiences and ideas.
I feel that the most important outcome of a group is parent connectedness and the parents getting support from each other. If they learn something from the facilitator, that is a bonus!
connection is a very important component of NPG
I only participate in part of the new parent group and INFANT which is lead by another local service but time and time again groups that form in these settings allow for friendships to form and we see support being provided to one another, attendance at other local early childhood programs (rhyme time, story time, mum and bub exercise classes). Face to face connection is more important than ever.
having a mental health lens at all stages of a child’s life is so important as a prevention strategy
Many first-time parents, who are also the first in the friendship circle, have noted how helpful it is to have others with similar experiences. Also being in groups with children of similar ages so experiences are not too dissimilar.
In Benalla we have found offering INFANT in conjunction with first time parent group, a great way to introduce parents to each other. We are lucky that we also get parents progress to PEEP playgroups (run for children 0- school age) so many parents are often meeting weekly for several years.
Great advice Kathyrn
Any event/program, whether large or small, that gets people and families back out, about and connecting with others is going to be of immense benefit to mental health and wellbeing, particularly after the experiences we’ve all had over the recent years.
I have recently included the Infant program at session 6 of first time parent group.
Giving the group plenty of notice early so working Partners could arrange to attend.
I have found that the Mums learn from each other especially if they continue to meet after group sessions finish at the centre.
Parents love an opportunity to meet up with each other and their babies, the really lovely thing about INFANT is that you get to see those relationships and friendships develop over time rather than just the traditional 6 weeks of a new parent group.
The Introduction of INFANT in FTPG’s works well.
It has been a challenge to get the parents to return for the extended groups ie 6, 9 & 12 month sessions. We have even offered small incentives. Families are busy and forget the groups, or RSVP but don’t show.
Our FTPG’s which incorporate the learnings from Infant are so valuable for social connections.
Sometimes attending a group such as INFANT, sleep and settling or FTPG might be the only social outing for the week for some parents. It is so important for mental health to get out of the house but also sharing in experiences with others helps them to feel less alone and can be reassuring that other parents are experiencing the same things with their babies.
Infant Program groups along with our FTPG are great opportunities for social connection for families. Sharing of common experiences and knowledge with peers who are in the same stage of life can be so helpful to families. This social connection can have great benefit to mental health. It is so fulfilling facilitating a group that is chatting and sharing together.
Prior to pandemic i found the groups to be well attended and it was a wonderful support for parents to meet others in their own community. However since Covid the attendance in my area has been poor despite some mothers asking when the next group was starting.
I do hope the attendance improves in 2023 as it does give parents the opportunity to discuss their own journey with their baby/it’s , they gain new knowledge before they may actually need to use that skill and very importantly increases community connection, often form lifelong friendships . In the past it was the parents who attended the group who managed to accept the changes required by their developing infant such as introducing finger foods without the fear of “choking”
There is nothing more rewarding than seeing parents supporting each other and helping to solve one another’s issues whether that be trying new foods with their infants or learning how to look after themselves better. One of the wonderful reflections that my students have had in observing group dynamics is understanding the role of a facilitator is not always to be the one talking.
” I found it very interesting the way the women supported each other and gave one another helpful tips that they use at home. I did not realize that creating community and social connections was so important in facilitating change.”
In another observation
‘One thing that was highlighted to me was that a woman who was forced to finish all her food now has many sensory issues. She has since adopted the practice of letting her children eat without pressure, knowing that by allowing them to eat when they’re hungry and to not eat when they’re not, allows them to develop natural hunger cues and allows them to slowly ease into eating new items as eating is a new skill for them
Lovely reflections! Rachel (INFANT team)
Groups are a fantastic way to promote social connection and networks for parents. When done well they create an environment of support, encouragement, and inclusion- all of which improve mental health and wellbeing. This can be especially beneficial for especially for families that are experiencing isolation and vulnerability.
I really stress the importance of community connection during my new parent groups and INFANT in particular helps to promote the importance of both children and adults alike to be active everyday from both a physical and mental health perspective. I encourage pram walks in the local park and a coffee treat afterwards as a way to catch up and debrief about the good and bad days as a new parent.
Connecting socially in a group setting may not work for everyone, but for families who are isolated, for many different reasons, they can find their “village” at a parent group.
This can provide support for their own mental health and parenting struggles. Sharing their own stories, tips and tricks with peers can help them feel they are not the only ones going through whatever issues they are experiencing. The follow up INFANT groups have had mixed results for numbers due to parents RTW and/or illness etc, but has been a great reconnection point for those able to attend.
Social connection is the most important part of new parent group. They families get a lot out of sharing the challenges and joys of parenting
when parents attend infant program & first time parents group, it allows them to build social connections with other families that may be experiencing similar journeys. These experiences often provide reassurance and support
I like that we can keep the new parent connections flowing with Infant and the fact that there seems to be less ‘pressure’ on the parent in these sessions- probably because they are feeling more confident and the babies are older- but the conversations around food (and poos ) seem to be more jovial and honest.
I found families that attended an Infant session before their 4m KAS felt more confident and informed around starting solids. They felt there questions were relevant and normalized as they could hear and see other families having similar questions and concerns as them.
The infant sessions are good way to extend conversations as a baby grows, beyond the NPG group. Parents are able to feel more supported in a peer environment, with those going through similar milestone journeys with their children.
The MCHN that we ran our first two INFANT groups with reported a noticeable increase in confidence and reduction of stress levels at KAS appts for parents who participated in INFANT. These parents were transitioning smoothly with minimal issues, very rewarding!
INFANT program provides connection for parents to discuss and share ideas on their parenting journey, in particular around feeding and active play.
INFANT is a great way to “extend” the contacts and bonds formed in New Parent’s Group. While attendance tapers off at the 12 month session there are still families connecting and taking the information back to their “group”.
Parenting groups such as INFANT can help to improve mental health, wellbeing and build social connection among parents especially in a post pandemic world. The initial structure of groups paves the way for these groups to be formed in an ongoing informal setting once the groups ‘finish’ at the council. These groups allow for families to share experience and realised they are not alone.
INFANT can support relationships already made at FTPG or be a starting point for new ones. For parents to know that there are other local families who have similar questions and concerns about food as they do can be a great relief.
infant program is a starting point for social connections made and maintained post group as families grow and share the journey of parenthood
Parent groups such as Infant is a great way for parents to connect and allowing greater connections and friendships with people that are going through similar experiences.
Infant provide families with the key fundamentals to health and well being
infant program connects families together who experiencing the same journey
The groups give families a basic structure to their learning, social interaction and confidence to explore and engage with other families and facilitators.
I feel the infant sessions are a great way for parents to connect with other parents in their community. The parents in the infant group really look forward to catching up with each other in the 2nd infant session, 3 months on, some exchange phone numbers and others form a Facebook group.
Groups like NPG and Infant allow a sharing of ideas, challenges between parents, a normalising of what they are experiencing. Families are often so keen to make social connections with other new parents.
While service capacity has restricted the way in which we facilitate sessions 3-4 (with these being run online), we have still seen those social connections form and build throughout their journey.
As others have mentioned, many families want to engage though can be nervous or hesitant to do so. While online sessions aren’t always ideal sometimes they can be beneficial, as people can stay in the comfort of their home.
We previously ran INFANT via telehealth so it was difficult for parents to develop social connections. We did however discuss ways they can link in different community programs such as Story Time at the library and other supported playgroups. We provided parents with information about these community programs. I look forward to seeing parents develop stronger social connections at the next two groups that we are running which will be face to face.
Groups like INFANT provides families an opportunity to improve social connection ,platform to share their thoughts and ideas .
Groups like INFANT provides families an opportunity to improve social connection ,platform to share their thoughts and ideas . Increase their confidence to explore and engage with other families and facilitators.
I find INFANT is a good way to connect people with babies of the same age and it also helps to elevate anxiety around their solids journey as they can learn from other parents along the way.
Promotes discussion and “normailses” fears, concerns, struggles people may have.
The groups are quite open to discussion and the parents often will exchange ideas and may even form connections to continue to meet up, especially if they have attended more than 1 session with the same people.
The social connection with other local parents who participate in INFANT would be invaluable, particularly during this time where the pandemic has really been so tough and isolating on families
social connection and feeling part of a warm group is vital for all especially parents who are isolated from family. Promoting groups and encouraging engagement is important
At the end of one of the Infant groups I ran 5 parents exchanged numbers to join a walking group. So this group successfully connected new mums who planned to exercise.
How great is that!!
We also ran the infant program in our First Tim Parenting groups and this allows for a lot of questions and engagement from the families. I have found running it in the groups has been so beneficial before having the 4mth KAS as they have more questions or clarify. But also they have the parents from the group that they can connect with and hear how they are going with the introduction of food.
Infant groups is a wonderful way to promote Social connection for parents and definitely improves mental health and wellbeing especially for families that are isolated. But more challenging to access for CALD families and Vulnerable families.
Participating in the Infant Program give parents another reason and opportunity to connect with their community, which is increasingly challenging with our ever expanding fast growing suburbs. I agree with some of the other comments that parents want to engage but sometimes it is a daunting prospect when one has a young baby and is feeling disconnected , also especially challenging for parents from CALD backgrounds.
The groups give families structure to their learning, social interaction and a confidence to explore and engage with other families and facilitators.
I do find there are many mother’s in the community who would benefit from the social connections groups offer, yet, due to their social anxieties decide not to join.
We as health professionald know the importance of social connection and encourage them to join, yet the mother’s are the ones who make a decision .
I do think the INFANT prgram is a well designed model and we are confident to invite mother’s to these groups.
We are in a local government area with rapid growth. To be able to educate families whilst connecting them with other local families has a significant impact on their wellbeing in creating social networks. Particularly as we are implementing INFANT for our EMCH clients initially, these families are often isolated and experiencing similar concerns for their children.
Working with isolated enhanced families I find the group session allows caregivers to see others who are having similar struggles. Hearing a health professional saying something they are concerned about ‘is normal’ is no way near as effective as sitting with other families and hearing they are struggling with a similar thing. Such as fussy eating or sleep challenges.