By Alex Florschutz, MA
Happy International Woman’s Day (8.3.21)!
I would like to share an update on my public engagement project
The Birthing a Better Future Art and Science Exhibition (by Zero2 Expo) in collaboration with The Early Years – A Window of Opportunity:
A global art and science exhibition
The Birthing a Better Future Art and Science Exhibition was created to increase public awareness about the key issues and importance of the formative first 1000 days of a child’s life, from conception to early childhood. This creative project launched in the UK Houses of Parliament in 2016 and has since been travelling around the UK, including the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford (2017/18), the Brighton Festival (2019) and the Fitzrovia Chapel, London (2019).
It is the culmination of working with 32 artists, 28 scientists and many hours of research, integrating a spectrum of positive and diverse opinions to create an empowering message.
Each exhibition banner covers a key topics for contemplation, inviting you to consider new ways of thinking about pregnancy, birth and parenting. All text is underpinned by expert opinions and scientific research and is accompanied by thought-provoking art. It is compelling, engaging and accessible, lending itself equally to senior level policy makers and budget holders; local practitioners; parents and the general public.
Significant evidence has now accumulated on how important these first 1000 days are for optimum brain development, critical for laying the foundation for physical, cognitive, emotional health and well-being, an outcome which is most readily achieved through exposure to healthy environments and good relationships. These positive early connections last a lifetime, and are vital in creating successful, happy and healthy adults.
In fact, “Economists have shown that money spent on interventions in early life brings the greatest dividends. It is more cost-effective to act early rather than pick up the pieces when problems occur. Effective early action leads to accumulated savings by preventing other services being required later in the child’s life, and improves the child and family’s participation in the economy.” (https://parentinfantfoundation.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/F1001D-Consensus-Statement.pdf)
Furthermore, the abstract of our evaluation on the Oxford exhibition was published in The Lancet stating nearly 80% of people who visited the exhibition found it had an affect in raising awareness about the 1000 days. Visitors expressed how they found it informative, educational, moving and inspiring, even prompting changes in behaviour. The evaluation continued for the Brighton and London expos with even better outcomes.
The Birthing a Better Future Art & Science Exhibition provides a valuable model to demonstrate the power of art and science to communicate a powerful public health message because I believe this is one of the biggest public health messages of our time.
Globally, pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period are synonymous, regardless of nationality. The time has come to acknowledge and prioritise the following, non mutually exclusive, universal challenges:
- Environmental Stress (i.e. neglect, isolation, abuse including domestic violence)
- Nutrition and the importance of Breastfeeding
- Perinatal Maternal Mental Health and Infant Mental Health
- Industrialised Birth, Bonding and Attachment
Zero2 Expo is honoured to further this awareness raising by collaborating with Professor Monica Lakhanpaul, Prof. of Integrated Community Child Health, University College London (UCL) in partnership with DBT/ Wellcome Trust India Alliance (India Alliance) and team members, on an international project starting in India called.
The Early Years – A Window of Opportunity
A Global Art & Science Exhibition
Launching on 26th March 2021 (with a physical exhibition in India tbc), and further aims to roll out this project across other countries.
You are warmly invited to the launch of The Early Years, an exciting public engagement project exploring the power of art in public health. Our aim is to raise awareness on child health in India highlighting the formative first 1000 days – from conception to early childhood. We have created a moving and informative multi-media experience for your interest, contemplation and action.
Our 2 hour event, themed around these first 1000 days, includes a:
- Virtual reality exhibition showcasing photographs from the PANChSHEEEL Project, India, alongside selected artwork and text from the Birthing a Better Future Art & Science Exhibition, UK(first launched in the UK Houses of Parliament)
- Gallery of new artwork submissions collected from Indian rural and urban artists
- Drawings by children from ? exploring their experience of Covid
- Film screening of Unsafe Spaces directed by Priyadarshi Khastgir, and
- Panel comprising of leading edge pioneers discussing the power of art in public health and multi-pronged approaches to support ‘The Early Years’.
(See panelists and speakers below)
For more details of this event and to view the exhibits further, please visit: https://www.pahus.org/early-years-exhibition
Our combined projects emphasise why babies physical, cognitive and emotional health & wellbeing REALLY matters!
“Good beginnings make a positive difference in the world, so it is worth our while to provide the best possible care for mothers and babies throughout this extraordinarily influential part of life.” (Ina May Gaskin – world renowned midwife – Spiritual Midwifery 2002)
When babies/children are exposed to very stressful situations, like neglect, isolation and abuse, it can interfere with the wiring of their brain potentially leading to lifelong problems that can actually start in the womb.
Consistent, loving and responsive care towards babies and an increased understanding of how toxic stress affects the developing foetus during pregnancy, can help avoid problems later on. Repeated positive parenting and more support for pregnant women and families, can help break unhealthy behavioural cycles that may have been passed down through generations.
“During this period, nutrition plays an important role in a child’s cognitive development. Basic recommendations advise home-prepared foods with a high consumption of fruit and vegetables, vitamin D and iron rich foods, vitamin B12, folic acid and zinc which are all important during pregnancy and early childhood.
Maternal nutrition may also have an impact on the mental health of the mother herself, as well as influencing the infant via parenting behaviour and infant attachment. Finally the importance of interaction and active play should not be underestimated in a child’s cognitive development.” (Professor Monica Lakhanpaul (Professor of Integrated Community Child Health, GOS Institute of Child Health, UCL, London)
Perinatal Maternal Mental Health
The common feelings of sadness and depression known as the ‘Baby Blues’ affects most new mums and some fathers. This can be caused by a multitude of triggers such as difficult birth, life circumstances, resurfaced childhood issues or the hormones rebalancing into a new paradigm, as well as lack of sleep and a change to a mother’s identity. This is not to be confused with more debilitating mental illnesses during pregnancy or after the birth known as Antenatal and Postnatal Depression (AND/PND).
There has been extensive research into the effects of perinatal maternal mental health on foetus/infant brain development which can lead to poor mother-infant bonding, inability to breastfeed, interact and play with their infant.
“Low- and middle- income countries (LAMI) have been found to have a higher prevalence of perinatal mental health problems and higher rates of maternal suicide often driven by external factors such as marital conflict and interpersonal violence…
…Infants of mothers with depression in LAMI countries have high rates of malnutrition, diarrhoea, infections, hospital admissions, and incomplete immunisation schedules”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5555055/
Statistics show how perinatal depression, anxiety and psychosis carry a significant long-term cost to society which could be seriously reduced if more support is given during these first 1000 days.
It is important to point out that “some depressed mothers are highly sensitive to their infants and young children and have good relationships with them.” (Postnatal Depression & the Under Twos by Professor Lynne Murray – Professor of Developmental Psychology, University of Reading)
Infant Mental Health
“Infant mental health is very important because it lays the basis for child and even adult mental health. And infant mental health starts before the baby is born. Our vulnerability or resilience for mental health starts in the womb…
…The mother’s emotional state while pregnant can alter the development of the fetal brain, and increase the risk of later problems such as ADHD, although most children are not affected. Healthcare professionals, family, friends and work colleagues, all need to give emotional support to pregnant women”. (Professor Vivette Glover – Professor of Perinatal Psychology, Imperial College, London)
Birth is our entrance into this world and we live our lives based on the experiences we received via our mother and her environment from conception onwards.
“The memories of our time in the womb and our births are held in every cell of our bodies. The quality of birth affects the quality of life, and in turn, impacts and shapes the quality of society. Birth is the source experience in the body, and we were conscious at birth. Thus, our birth affects our whole subsequent mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. The decisions we make at birth are the foundation for the beliefs and patterns that are active in our lives. Those individual attitudes and patterns translate to the attitudes and patterns displayed by nations”. (Binnie A. Dansby – Teacher, Therapist, Philosopher, Author)
The control of childbirth via medicalisation has meant that the fear imposed on the woman in labour and birth is immediately followed, in so many countries, by the enforced separation of mother and baby. The ‘authority’ demands expert checks (such as paediatricians) be carried out rather than allowing mother and baby the essential bonding time which is so important for wellbeing, relationship and breastfeeding. This then enforces the very first ‘external’ experience for the baby as loss and insecurity.
If babies are immediately separated at birth, it is very traumatic and the longer the separation, the deeper the imprint. A new-born can experience it as a terrifying event which creates the foundation of a pattern on the primary blue-print of our lives. This embodied yet unconscious memory can show up in relationships throughout life causing a viscerally real fear of separation and other complications.
Further consensus amongst birthing women is that they loose their autonomy during birth as their body is controlled and violated and they often feel disempowered due to the reliance on a medical system that acts like a “supreme being” to be obeyed for fear of putting themselves and their baby at risk. The question is how can pregnancy and birth, a deeply instinctual experience and part of nature spanning millions of years and an art with which we are rapidly losing touch, be trusted once again? How do we reconnect back to the ancient natural life cycles of the human being and translate them, in a positive way, to our time?
Several years ago, the Fernandez Hospital, Hyderabad, India founded by Dr Evita Fernandez, created a new profession of midwives who’s primary objective was to humanise childbirth in India. They support and empower women, giving them choice, and ensure babies have immediate and lasting skin-to-skin contact right after the birth. Rates of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth are very high.
It is important to honour the emotional / psychological experiences of birthing women such as:
- the impact of her environment and relationships during pregnancy (domestic violence often starts or increases during pregnancy);
- previous birth stories (a difficult birth may certainly influence the next pregnancy);
- the experience of pregnancy loss, which will certainly have an impact on emotional wellbeing especially in subsequent pregnancies.
Physiologically, pregnancy, birth, bonding and breast-feeding are universal processes, therefore, until the world unites on the 1000 days, with birth being the pivotal point, then most efforts will be futile in the end. It is therefore fundamental we improve the environment for women to bring new life into the world in a safe and secure way, through women-centred services that give choice, education and support while simultaneously guiding partners/fathers and wider family/community how to support this sacred time.
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“You invest a lot in your kids, from the sleepless nights early on and the frightening trips to the emergency room, to homework assignments and a million miles of taxi driving. The great thing is that everything you put in counts, and with a bit of luck, one day they will realise it. Love adds up to something. It’s indestructible and immortal and carries long on after your own life is over. Who could ask for more?” (Steve Biddulph – Psychologist, Author)
The following theme categories we’ve chosen to focus on for our India exhibition contain the foundation themes mentioned above:
- Education, Growth, and Development
- Nutrition and Care Practices
- Infections (for example: Vaccinations, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH))
- Environment (for example: Social, Family, and Natural Environment)
- Impact of COVID-19 on the Early Years
“The period from pregnancy to age 3 is when children are most susceptible to environmental influences. Investing in this period is one of the most efficient and effective ways to help eliminate extreme poverty and inequality, boost shared prosperity, and create the human capital needed for economies to diversify and grow.”
(UNICEF, World Bank and World Health Organisation, Nurturing Care Framework)
WE WOULD LOVE YOU TO JOIN OUR Public Engagement PROJECT to help raise awareness on these first 1000 days of a Child’s life.
For further information and to enter the exhibition and panel discussion launch day on the 26th March 2021, please visit:
This exhibition is part of an on-going initiative to encourage the use of the Arts & Film for Public Health engagement.
We really look forward to sharing this important work with you so we can really make a difference in the lives of Children – from conception to early childhood.
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Project PI: Prof (Dr) Monica Lakhanpaul
UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, University College London
Project Co-Lead: Dr. Kartik Sharma
Public Arts Health & Us (PAHUS)
For further queries please feel free to reach out to: