Caring For Your Baby
‘Every mother and child develops their own language to communicate with each other. I can’t see but even when my son was too young to speak, he would tell me in his own way what he wanted.’
Neha Pavaskar, 36, visually impaired
I need so much help to take care of my baby, I hardly feel like a mother.
A newborn baby needs constant attention and care, which if handled alone, can be tiring and taxing for any new mother. Irrespective of disability, almost all mothers rely on family, friends, neighbours, or domestic workers to help out.
If your disability means you need help with your daily work, you will probably also need help caring for the daily needs of your baby. For example, newborn babies need to be fed and changed often, and if you suffer from fatigue, limited mobility in your upper body, or an impairment that means you need extra assistance with physical tasks, do not get discouraged. Even when you ask another person to be your eyes, ears, arms, or legs, you are the one deciding how to meet your baby’s needs, her safety, and making decisions about her overall wellbeing. Remember, no matter how much help you may need, you are still your baby’s mother. If you keep your baby close to you, she can see your face, hear your voice, and feel and smell your body, and you can be assured she knows who her mother is – you!
Given my disability, how can I care for my baby’s daily needs?
- Breastfeeding. Most women learn to breastfeed their babies by watching other women in the family or their community, so if you know a mother who has the same disability as you, you can ask her for advice. Find a comfortable position It maybe easier to breast feed your baby if you sit in a chair or bed where you can lean back a little and also support your arms. It also helps to rest your feet on something, making sure your baby is also well supported. Use pillows or a rolled-up cloth under her. If you have limited use of your arms and upper body, ask someone to help you if necessary. Even though you are not holding the baby in your arms, she will still be able to see your face and feel the warmth and familiar smell of your body, and associate her feeding with you. You may also find it easier to lie on your side with your baby beside you, supported by pillows or rolled-up cloth.
- Comforting the baby. A healthy baby usually makes a lot of noise when she is hungry or not feeling well. So if you do not hear well , you will need to stay close to your baby as much as possible so you can see when your baby needs attention. At night, sleep with the baby close to you so that you can feel her move. If you can’t speak, use sign language even if your baby can hear. In this way you are establishing a form of communication with your child for life.
- Sleeping with the baby. You may rest better sleeping with the baby next to you. If you cannot see or hear well , you will always know with either movement or sound that your baby needs to be fed or changed. If you have difficulty walking, keep a supply of nappies, diapers or cloth and clean clothes close by so you can change the baby during the night without having to get up. If your disability is such that you may roll over on top of the baby, or if you need to sleep sitting upright, you can make a small cot with sides that the baby can sleep in beside you.
- Cleaning the baby. While cleaning a baby, she may move around a lot, making the process more difficult. Try giving her a small toy or something to play with so she is distracted. Depending on your impairment, you may have to rely on a family member or helper to change your baby. In that case, make sure the place where the baby is changed is close beside you so that the baby can always hear your voice and see your face while she is being changed. If you have only one arm or limited use of your arms or hands, you can start to teach your baby how to help you put on a nappy after she is one month old. As you place a clean cloth under her bottom, lift or bounce her bottom up 2 or 3 times. Do this each time you change her, and soon she will start to lift her bottom up herself whenever she feels you touching her there. This will make it easier for you to get the cloth placed underneath her. If you are visually impaired, hold your baby’s bottom under running water so that she can be cleaned properly, or use a thin wet cloth so that you can feel the stool and remove it completely.
- Carrying and moving around with the baby. If you start while the baby is tiny, you will soon get used to the feeling of carrying your child. As the baby grows bigger and heavier, your body and balance will adjust to the increase in her weight, but remember, what works one month may not work the next month. If you have limited use of your arms and legs , it may be hard to keep your balance, and your lower back may hurt. If you use crutches or a stick for walking, you may find it easier to carry your baby on your back. If you are on a wheelchair and need your hands to steer, you could use a sling to hold your baby, securing it on your waist with a belt. If you suffer from seizures or fits, you will know best how often you get them and how severe they are. If you have a seizure while you are holding a small baby and you drop her, she could be badly hurt or even die. So if possible, try to always have someone who does not have seizures accompany you and the baby while you are carrying her.
- Keeping up with the baby’s movements. When babies first learn to crawl and walk by themselves, it can be difficult for any mother or father to keep up! Babies can move with remarkable speed, and it is easy for them to get hurt. If your mobility means you cannot run after your baby to keep her safe from dangerous situations, tie a string around the baby’s wrist so that you can quickly pull her back to safety. The string can also be tied around your waist if you are unable to hold it with your hand. If you are visually impaired, you can tie something that makes a noise onto her ankle or wrist. This way you can always hear her and know where she is.
- Feeding her as she grows up. If you are visually impaired, put your baby in a comfortable or safe place so she can’t topple down, and use a sturdy bowl to serve the food so she can’t kick it down. Take a little quantity of food (not larger than a peanut) and slowly feed her with your hand. If you decide to use a spoon, use one hand to place a tiny quantity of food on a small spoon and to push off the excess. Meanwhile place the thumb of the other hand below the baby’s chin, and move the spoon taking your thumb as your guide. If you have limited upper body strength and coordination, you may be able to feed your baby by sitting to the side of the baby, so you will not have to reach forward much. If you cannot feed the baby yourself, you can sit as close to her as possible and talk to her while someone else gives her food. This will help her recognise you as the person who gives her food when she is hungry.
(Source: A Health Handbook for Women With Disabilities ed Maxwell, Belser, and David, 2007)