Dr. Antonella Sansone
Dr Antonella Sansone - Hons in Clinical Psychology, MA, Certified Mindfulness Facilitator/Teacher, PhD Researcher, Author.
I am a mother, clinical psychologist, PhD researcher, mindfulness teacher/facilitator, developmental infant massage teacher, author and artist. I am an international speaker, pioneer, paradigm shifter, and advocate in the field of early parenting from before conception to infancy, prenatal and perinatal mental health, mindfulness, mother-infant relationship prior and post-birth. I have a special interest in the impact of the pre/perinatal period on human development and health, consciousness, integration of primal wisdom and science, psychosomatics, and mind-body approaches to health, prevention and healing. One of my main goals is connecting the academic world with the lay community and implementing services that promote evolution of human virtues and consciousness, wellbeing, peace and life sustainability on our planet. As an infant massage teacher, I believe that mindful massage, like all ancient nurturing practices, can co-regulate mother-infant psychobiological rhythms and thus be a vital part of the bonding process and a reassuring extension of the womb environment. I am a yoga practitioner and lover of exercise and contemplation in Nature, and this reflects my belief in the importance of the mind and body unity and balance as foundation of health and wellbeing.
I highly value the role of the body and emotions in communication and health/dysfunction, especially in early dynamics between infant and parent. I am interested in how counsellors and clinicians use the language of the body, in particular sensorimotor and somatic narratives, in their relationship with their clients. I acknowledge the importance of being mindful of their own body and the client's in therapy, in particular of a pregnant's body, in which a sentient human being is developing. I have extensively written on this topic in my books Working with Parents and Infants: A Mind-Body Integration Approach (Routledge, 2007), Cultivating Mindfulness to Raise Children Who Thrive: Why human Connection from Before Birth Matters (Routledge, 2021), and articles When the Breast Says No: The Missing Links (2018) and Connection and Empathy: Enhancing Pre and Perinatal Healthcare Professionals' Interpersonal Skills (2016). You can see the links on my publications page.
My work with expectant and new parents and infants in UK and Italy, empirical studies of African indigenous cultures, mindfulness training, and inspiring motherhood have led to the writing of my third book Cultivating Mindfulness to Raise Children Who Thrive: Why Human Connection from Before Birth Matters and the design of a PhD drawing on it. I received three international awards: the Leonardo Da Vinci Award in 1997 to undertake a research project at the Birth Unit of St John and St Elizabeth Hospital in London, the International Excellence Award in 2018 from Central Queensland University (CQU) in Australia to undertake a PhD and an Award from Bond University in Australia.
My PhD explores associations among maternal mindfulness and mental health during pregnancy, and mother-baby relationship before and after birth, in particular emotional availability. I have developed the Prenatal & Perinatal Mindfulness Relationship-Based (PMRB) program focused on mother-baby sensorimotor interactions and somatic narratives and reflective function. The program/model aims to promote human connection from before birth, revalue the spiritual intersubjective dimension of pregnancy, maternal ancient inner resources, and mitigate the risk of postnatal depression, anxiety, and stress.
I have been involved in the World Association of Infant Mental Health (WAIMH), Marce’ Society for Perinatal Mental Health and its Australiasian chapter, Association for Prenatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH), International Society for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Medicine (ISPPM) and Mother & Child Foundation in UK for several years. I have regularly presented at their international congresses and published on their journals.
I received my Honours Degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of Rome La Sapienza in 1996. I graduated with Professor of Psychophysiology Vezio Ruggieri, who has played a key role in my mind-body integrative formation, which has directed all my subsequent studies. After 1-year postgraduate training at the Gynaecology & Obstetrics Ward of La Sapienza Hospital Umberto I, I received the Leonardo Da Vinci Award to pursue a research project on mother-infant bonding starting from pregnancy at the Birth Unit of St John & St Elizabeth Hospital in London, under the supervision of Consultant Active Birth pioneer Dr Yehudi Gordon. Working at this Birth Unit opened an entire rich world of exploration and revelations about the mother/father-baby preverbal communications or somatic narratives and crucial impact of the early period, including the prenatal, on our development. I had the unique opportunity to attend prenatal and perinatal classed, follow-up from pregnancy to the first two years after birth and assist a few births. I leant so much from this. A lot I had learnt from books was taking a far richer live form. I was working in an interdisciplinary team of midwives, obstetricians, paediatricians, neonatologists, psychotherapists and came to learn the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to maternal and infant and family care. I became increasingly interested in this early phase of human development.
I completed my Master in Psychoanalytical Observational Studies at the Tavistock Clinic (East London University) while carrying on with my research and work at the Birth Unit and writing my first book Mothers, Babies and their Body Language (2004). In 2007 I was publishing my second book Working with Parents and Infants: A Mind-Body Integration Approach (2007) drawing upon my Master Dissertation, presenting a new psychosomatic approach to health and the healing relationship based on the integration of Eastern meditative disciplines and Western psychological practice.
In 2004 I met in London my husband David Southwood, a professional wildlife photographer, safari guide and conservationist. David was born and grew up in Africa. I had two girls with him, now 13 and 15-year old. Motherhood has been the heart-centre of my life, the most life-transformative and humbling of all my learning experiences, still now the most inspiring for my life and work. Actually, my new book Cultivating Mindfulness to Raise Children Who Thrive is not the book I planned to write. My original manuscript was a memoir of my first pregnancy, inner wisdom and relationship with my unborn baby with some links with scientific studies, which will be one of my next books. I was gifted with a first-hand experience of the baby in the womb as a conscious sentient being, capable to engage with sensorimotor interactions and my emotions, respond to my favourite piano music and my emotional responses to it, the spirituality heightened by pregnancy and the empowerment.
By meeting David I also had the privilege to access African indigenous cultures. Five years ago we all, including our daughters, spent some time with the Himba of Northern Namibia. That was another revealing lightening experience. I could see how their practices (e.g. calling for the soul of the child), especially in regard to preconception, pregnancy, birth and post-birth, were transmitted through generations, shaping emotionally and socially healthy children and adults and a peaceful community, which is highly relevant to epigenetics. This experience consolidated my knowledge that mothering among indigenous cultures supported by the entire community produced much healthier human beings/souls than mothering in the modern West. I gained insights into how to integrate the indigenous way of knowing and being with our modern life and science.
Back in London, I was invited with other professionals in the field to attend at the House of commons ‘The 1001 Critical Days – from Conception to Year Two – a Cross-Party Manifesto’ and its All Party Parliamentary Group both founded by Member of Parliament Andrea Leadsom. This manifesto highlights the importance of the period from conception to age two in shaping brain development and health and supporting this period to enhance the outcomes for children and next generations and prevent many societal and economic problems.
These political experiences, my work with expectant and new parents in UK and Italy, the expansion of my embodied knowledge acquired through motherhood, my experience with the Himba, the mindfulness retreats and mindfulness teaching training and regular practice, and the inspiration of some pioneers of the fields led to the writing of a new manuscript that had a mind of its own and listened to a new call: sensitising all those who play a role in parental and infant health and wellbeing – not just the parents themselves, but the prenatal and perinatal healthcare professionals, the policy makers, and every member of the community and humanity, so that every prospective and new parent and every child are welcome and embraced by the village with love, kindness and compassion. It was a new call for our community and humanity to support and nurture the mother-unborn relationship and mother’s and father’s mental state.
Meanwhile I was designing a PhD project to put some headways of the book into a rigorous study and further investigate the Prenatal and Perinatal Mindfulness Relationship-Based (PMRB) program I had developed during my work and empirical studies. The research project explores association among maternal mindfulness and mental health during pregnancy and mother-infant relationship before and after birth, in particular emotional availability. It anticipates that the program may lead to enhancement of mother-infant relationship before and after birth, improvement in maternal mental health, and mitigation of the risk of postnatal depression, anxiety and stress. Emotional availability is a key outcome because this is the connective tissue between mother and baby, which allows a mother to be present and responsive to her infant’s needs, whereas it is hindered by the mother’s stress, anxiety and depression. Therefore, emotional availability is a good indicator of a well-functioning mother-baby relationship and we can see it unfolding from pregnancy through birth and beyond in an indigenous mother benefitting from shared childcare thus the support of the community. Having been granted the International Excellence Award from Central Queensland University encouraged me and my family to move to Australia to also have a life experience. Despite the initial adjustment challenges and distance from our home and culture, living in Australia has brought a deep connection with its glamorous Nature and through my young daughters’ experience consolidated my interest in how our diverse cultures and childhood experiences shape our world view and way we relate to others.