Special Needs Babywearing – Lift Them Up!
CW: discussion of birth injury, breastfeeding, and mood disturbance
Having a baby is one of the most exciting, joyful moments in a person’s life. But, what happens when the unexpected occurs?
Magnolia Rose was born on January 12, 2018. Our little bundle of joy turned out to be not so little—a whopping 10lbs 4oz. On her way out, Magnolia’s shoulder got stuck behind my pelvic bone, resulting in what is called a shoulder dystocia. Due to this unfortunate event and the maneuvers used to get her out naturally, the nerves in her brachial plexus (the collection of nerves located in your lower cervical spine and upper thoracic spine) were stretched to the point of critical damage, resulting in the condition known as Erb’s Palsy. 2-3 out of 1,000 babies are affected by Erb’s Palsy every year.
[Boston Children’s Hospital, http://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/b/brachial-plexus-injury]
This is just our story. Over all, about 6-7% of babies born in the US every year suffer birth defects or birth injury. No matter how prepared you are for the birth of your child, nothing prepares you for having a child with special needs.
It is well documented that babywearing can help parents of special needs babies cope (check out the resources in the MAB page, “The Benefits of Babywearing” for a link to the study!). Especially for those babies that face a NICU stay, the literal closeness of parent-to-baby encourages intimate bonding, similar to that experienced in the womb, which increases a parent’s feelings of competency and empowerment in a time where many feel helpless. These positive psychological outcomes can even help ward off postpartum mood disturbances in the birthing parent.
Beyond the general benefits to babywearing the special needs baby, in Magnolia’s case, babywearing also became a part of her everyday physical therapy. The specialists instructed us to swaddle her with her arm close to the body, bent at the elbow, and hand straight up—the same position in which she would be placed in a baby carrier! I was able to care for and feed my baby, give her the love and closeness that she and I so desperately needed, AND actively participate in her treatments, all at the same time. And sometimes, all of this while going to and from the many doctor’s and specialist’s appointments. Talk about feeling empowered!
As the severity of her injury started to improve, and her shoulder and arm became stronger, I set out to discover other ways to incorporate babywearing into our everyday therapy routine.
I learned just about every method of carrying, and discovered how versatile wrapping could be for use in restriction therapy—the practice of restraining the non-affected arm to encourage more usage of the affected side. There were some carries, like Traditional Sling Carry (front and rear), and Semi Double Hammock, that already did this without modification, due to the one-shouldered nature of the carry, and ability to spread the shoulder pass to create the restriction on baby’s non-affected side.
I even came to modify some carries, like Front Cross Carry, with a one-sided flipped shoulder, to create that same restriction but with more freedom to utilize the passes that work best for us overall as a babywearing duo.
It has been nearly two years since Magnolia’s rocky start in the world, and to this day, we still babywear both to get through the day and to make the most of our time together. The immense benefits of babywearing, especially with a special needs child, have helped us all to cope and grow as a family. After all, I have an older child at home as well, who also needs to feel special and connected. Babywearing is certainly NOT just for babies…
…..or singletons, for that matter!
All in all, babywearing provides another method to lift our children up, both literally and figuratively, to achieve all that they can while living with a disability. I wasn’t at all prepared for this journey, but feel infinitely stronger with the priceless, timeless skill of babywearing on our side.
Thanks for taking the time to read about our special story.
About the Author:
Angelina is a resident of Philadelphia, proud mom of two, and long time social activist. She spends her spare time writing and volunteering with Mid-Atlantic Babywearing, as well as Philly Childcare Collective.
***International Babywearing Week falls in the same month as Erb’s Palsy Awareness month! For more information, please visit the United Brachial Plexus Network’s website at http://www.ubpn.org or Raising Hope, Inc’s website at https://www.raisinghpe.org