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The Benefits of a baby carrier for children with disabilities

By Liz Taylor

It is a well referenced fact that babywearing promotes bonding between child and caregiver. As Dr. Sears states, “Babywearing is a great practice for keeping baby happy and to help build a stronger bond between mom and her baby” (see more on Dr. Sears’ website here). It isn’t surprising therefore, that children with disabilities benefit from the security and bonding that babywearing offers, in the same way as their more abled counterparts; and thanks to some beautiful stories shared with me by some of these children’s caregivers, I’ve recently learned so much more about what an exceptional tool babywearing is in the everyday lives of these families.

Regardless of whether a child’s needs are physical, neurological, or a combination of both: babywearing provides a wide range of benefits for all families, whose varying needs are just as broad. I hope to outline some of the benefits in this article, and highlight babywearing children with disabilities as a topic that deserves more education, consideration, and recognition than it currently receives.

The caregivers that I discussed this topic with are, in my humble opinion, incredibly strong and loving individuals. They come from all walks of life; some have only one child with disabilities; others had more than one. Some manage typical children while using babywearing to meet the requirements of their child with extra needs, allowing them to still be present for every other child. All of these parents had one thing in common; their expressed love and appreciation for the tool of babywearing, and the incredible benefits it is allowing both them and their children.

Sensory overload was a common issue that arose as being assisted by babywearing; an example of this was provided by a caregiver of a child with autism. Children with autism have an incredibly low threshold for sensory input; occurrences such as a car door slamming, a light turning on, or the feeling of a certain type of fabric on their skin. Outings are especially difficult for children with autism, due to the sensory overload in the environment. Keeping her son close enabled this mother to control the world’s sensory input to him, through the use of a hood on the SSC to block out visual stimuli. The hood was also used to prevent unwelcome social interaction, which can be distressing for some children with autism.

Another caregiver outlined the importance of controlling sensory experiences, but with the use of a wrap. She remarked “With some careful wrapping, I could help him shield out the rest of the world and find his inner peace”. The deep pressure created from wearing a child in a carrier calms the central nervous system, and is soothing. It isn’t surprising therefore, that parents of children with sensory issues find babywearing extra supportive.

Wrapping can be effective for controlling sensory experiences.

A hood on an SSC can be used to prevent unwelcome social interaction.

Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip (DDH) is a congenital condition that affects 1 in 600 girls, and 1 in 4000 boys. One mother that I spoke with has two daughters who have experienced this condition. She has used babywearing with both of her daughters, as it allowed her the bonding cuddles all mothers desperately want with their babies; during the periods of time when both her daughters required harnesses for their conditions, she was still able to keep them close to her through babywearing. This allowed her to fulfil her own maternal needs.

Although this has been a topic of contention in babywearing circles, the International Hip Dysplasia Institute supports babywearing (with the hips in the M-position) as a method to encourage healthy hip development. So, not only does babywearing assist this parent in caring for her children whilst they are in a brace, but is also aiding her whilst her daughters were obtaining treatment.

Babywearing a child in a Pavlik harness, with a wrap

Babywearing a child in a Pavlik harness, with an SSC

Even the simple act of using babywearing as a tool for attending multiple medical appointments was a frequent theme through these conversations. Parents recognised that using babywearing whilst their children are undergoing medical treatment, was both convenient and necessary to assist in alleviating the children’s fears and stress. I cannot begin to imagine needing to attend as many specialist appointments as these caregivers do, let alone without a carrier to make it that much simpler to get from A to B with ease.

One parent outlined how her son is going to require a prosthetic limb, due to being born without a fibula bone (calf bone) in one of his legs. She is grateful for the tool of babywearing, as she has envisaged how it will assist with her son both pre- and post-surgery. This little boy and his family will greatly benefit from babywearing in the coming months, as he learns how to use his new limb, and his parents learn how to get used to life with his prosthetic.

Babywearing came up as being invaluable for families whose children also have hypotonia, or low muscle tone. Children with hypotonia tire easily and suffer greater levels of bodily pain. Extended babywearing with older children provides several benefits to both children and their caregivers, as outlined above. Babywearing is allowing these children to be out in the world, observing and learning, when their physical restrictions would otherwise mean they miss out.

In and of itself, babywearing can still be looked at as a strange, hippy, fad-like phenomenon (which is a little ridiculous, considering that it is a centuries old practice). I know I frequently get the odd look when I’m wearing my toddler daughter; the occasional comment of ‘But she’s old enough to walk!’ is also heard. Imagine for a moment that the child you see being held in a carrier, isn’t able to walk. Or that the meltdown you’re witnessing is due to a sensory overload, not because the child is being ‘spoilt’ because they’re constantly being carried! This is where consideration and respect are sometimes lacking.

Society isn’t always as accepting of what appears to be outside the norm. Although babywearing is becoming more and more mainstream every day, and it’s becoming easier to obtain education and advice relating to the skill; for parents of children with disabilities, it isn’t that simple. Babywearing children with disabilities can be quite complex, with potential physical or sensory issues that need to be identified and addressed. Some medical professionals encourage babywearing; but most lack education in the multitude of benefits that babywearing affords to all children, regardless of their abilities.

All too often, parents of children who have disabilities hear very quickly that they ‘can’t’, ‘it’s too hard’, or ‘it’s not right for them’. They can then miss all the beautiful moments captured when carrying their children close. In the online babywearing community, these parents are being supported and are frequently encouraged to go back to their health professionals, armed with information to educate them on the benefits of babywearing. And although parents and caregivers willingly do attempt to provide this education to the health professionals, it often causes further arguments they have to have, in order to continue advocating for their children. It is yet another challenge in an already fraught day.

This is a topic that clearly deserves more attention than it currently receives. The benefits of babywearing for children with disabilities requires education across the board. One can only hope that in the future, more and more medical practitioners are aware of the benefits; and will be skilled in providing basic babywearing advice, or know where to direct these parents for additional support.

I would like to thank the parents and caregivers who shared their stories so openly and willingly. I respect your forthrightness, and I have personally learned a great deal from your circumstances, some of which are briefly outlined in this article. Please continue to use babywearing as a tool; you have demonstrated that it has benefits for all children and caregivers alike, and your ongoing participation means we learn and grow as a community.

Special thanks are given to the mum who helped me use appropriate and respectful language. You have taught me more than you realise.

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