Caring for Your Newborn When You Have A Disability
If you are a new parent with a disability, you may be nervous about all the normal things that come along with parenting, along with some additional concerns. You aren’t alone in this. More than 4.1 million American parents have a disability, according to the National Council on Disability. This equals 6.2 percent of moms and dads of children aged 18 and under.
Mobility, hearing, visual, speech impairments, cognitive disabilities, health problems, and other disabilities can make childcare a challenge. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t parent a newborn baby. While you may face issues that another new mother couldn’t understand, adaptive equipment, support groups, family members, and health service providers can help you to care for your little one. If you are nervous about meeting your baby’s needs or how some types of impairments could affect your parenting skills, read on for more information on caring for a newborn when you have a disability.
How Can Physical Disabilities Affect Parenting a Newborn?
There are a wide variety of physical issues or disabilities that could affect a new mother’s mobility. These include muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, multiple sclerosis, paralysis, amputations, severe musculoskeletal injuries, and many other health conditions. The range of possible physical disabilities makes it difficult to follow a single or universal set of tips for parenting. Instead, you may need to pick and choose what is most applicable to you and your needs as an individual.
According to a study from the Brandeis Heller School for Social Policy and Management, mothers with physical disabilities use several different strategies when caring for their children. These included baby care-specific adaptive equipment or modifications of existing equipment, home adaptations or modifications, help from others (such as family members or personal assistants), the ability to access information and support services, and effective communication skills.
If your home already has some modifications, you’re part way there. Along with this, you may need adaptive equipment that is specific to baby care. Some popular items include specialized medical equipment, while others are general baby items that any new mother would or could need.
Adaptive strollers, such as and the Cursum Stroller, can help women who use wheelchairs to do everything from going to the pediatrician’s office to visiting the local park. Other adaptive baby products to explore include side-opening cribs and swivel base car seats.
Along with these big-ticket items, Velcro-closure bibs, easy on and off diapers, and onesies without complicated buttons can make feeding and dressing a new baby easier. If breastfeeding is a struggle, a nursing sling or pillow can help you to hold your newborn close without having to use both hands.
How Can Hearing or Visual Disabilities Affect Parenting a Newborn
Physical issues are not the only disabilities that can affect parenting. Children of deaf adults, or CODA, is a term that has gained increased attention recently. The 2021 film of the same name focused on a hearing child of deaf parents. While the child in this Academy Award winning movie is older, infants and younger children of parents who are deaf (and the parents themselves) also face real challenges.
Newborns cry in order to communicate with their caregiver. Everything from hunger to attention is signaled with a specific cry. A parent who is deaf or hard of hearing cannot respond to this auditory signal. While the parent may be able to notice their baby’s cries, it’s hard to distinguish one cry from another. Here’s where adaptive technology comes in. The Chatterbaby app uses artificial intelligence to analyze a baby’s cries. Through a complex algorithm, the app translates the cry into a type or category and alerts the parent.
New parents with visual disabilities may also have concerns about caring for a newborn. While these parents can hear cries, coos, and everything else, they may worry about safety and supervision-related issues. Blind parents, like deaf parents, are perfectly capable of caring for and raising a happy, healthy child.
The alternative techniques that parents may use themselves to help them through daily life may actually come in use when caring for a newborn baby. Keep in mind, the specific techniques or methods that work for one parent may not work for another. Other senses, such as smell, can alert the parent to the need for a diaper change. They can then use the sense of touch to position the diaper correctly and complete the change. The sense of touch can also help new mothers to position a newborn and breastfeed, place the baby in their car seat, or strap their little one into a stroller. To learn more about parenting if you are blind or struggle with visual impairments and to find support, resources, and more, visit the National Federation of the Blind’s Blind Parents web-page.
How Can Autism Affect Parenting
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects more than 5.4 million adults in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you’re one of the many American adults with an ASD diagnosis, you may also have concerns about parenting a newborn. But these concerns shouldn’t stop you from experiencing everything that becoming a new mother has to offer.
Challenges that parents with ASD face often include lack of social networks and issues relating to sensory needs, communication, routines, and overall mental health. Occupational therapy and speech therapy may help you to master basic baby care skills, such as communicating with, diapering, bathing, and feeding your new little one.
A health care or mental health care provider can connect you with resources, support groups, and other forms of assistance that can help you to learn more about these challenges and ways to adapt within the framework of your new role as a parent.
Along with the day-to-day childcare challenges you may face as a parent with ASD, you may also wonder whether your child may also have the same diagnosis some day. Celebrity mama, Amy Schumer, has spoken out candidly about her husband Chris’s ASD and his stellar parenting abilities. In an Instagram post, Schumer wrote, “He takes care of our family and is a husband and father beyond my wildest dreams. Also he has autism spectrum disorder. Being tested and diagnosed has helped us communicate and support each other better.” The comedian-actress continued, “We want to encourage parents and people to give themselves the gift of information so people can function to the best of their abilities and remove any stigma that comes with autism. Statistically our son most likely will be diagnosed as well and if he’s anything like his father that is wonderful news.”
For more information on everything from finances to assistive technology, check out the CDC’s ASD resources page here.
Whatever your disability, with the right care, assistance, resources and support, you will make a fantastic parent.
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Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Erica is a mom and former preschool teacher with degrees in Art History and Applied Developmental Psychology (child development).