The brain’s most primitive role is to ensure survival. Infants respond to perceived or actual threats that trigger chemical, structural and behavioural changes, regardless of intention or medical necessity. Early adversity disrupts brain development by limiting experience-expectant plasticity, this changes brain structure and derails development and impacts on long-term health and wellbeing. The primary source of infant trauma in the SCBU/NICU is maternal separation. Maternal separation and socio-emotional neglect alter brain structures responsible for processing stress and threat and has been linked to neurodevelopmental and later neuropsychiatric disorders in adulthood. However, brain plasticity or the way the brain experiences development can be leveraged to improve outcomes.

This presentation will focus on the integration of a relationship-based, trauma-informed approach to the developmental follow up of preterm and high-risk infants and their families in the neonatal nursery and community. Attending to and building the capabilities of parents / carers and health professionals who care for and support infants, to provide responsive, positive, warm and sensitive parenting and therapeutic relationships can nurture the development of resilience; associated with better developmental outcomes.

[1] to have a relationship / having good relations, get to know one another, get along with, nurturing good relations (Maori Dictionary:

Dr Emily ReidArul Hamil & Lucy