Babywearing a Child with Special Needs
Becoming a parent can be an entirely overwhelming experience. You have suddenly become the sole caretaker and provider for a brand new human life—and on top of it all, you have to figure out how to do all of the normal, day-to-day stuff you were doing before that cute little kid joined the scene.
Now imagine that as an added bonus, your child is diagnosed with a disability. It might be Trisomy 21, it might be a congenital heart defect, it might be a physical/mobility limitation, or one of thousands of other diagnoses. Your world is already rocked by parenthood; special needs parenthood is like a ten on the Richter scale. It’s an F5 tornado. There are few things as a special needs parent, especially in those early days, that make everything feel pulled back together and collected; babywearing is one of those things.
I’ll preface this all by saying that of course, babywearing isn’t the end-all-be-all. There are situations where it may not be possible or appropriate, and it should always be done with safety as the first priority (which may mean doing so under the guidance of a medical professional). That being said: babywearing has utterly saved me as a special needs parent.
Wearing Kerrigan made me feel like a better mom
First and foremost, babywearing has been my primary mode of bonding with Kerrigan from the very beginning. I started wearing Kerrigan when she was about 2 weeks old with a ring sling. I wasn’t very proficient with it, and we quickly swapped to an SSC, but wearing Kerrigan as a tiny baby are some of my fondest memories of her infant days. Babywearing encouraged me to hold a baby that I was struggling to connect with on all levels, and it made me feel normal in a world where I (very suddenly) felt disconnected from other moms. It built my confidence as a mother, and it gave me something in common with the other ladies I met at play dates. Wearing Kerrigan made me feel like a better mom. I might have been breaking down on the inside, but on the outside, I was superhuman!
Babywearing is part of our medical routine
Beyond emotional benefits, carriers have an extreme level of practicality. As a special needs parent, there is a never-ending list of appointments and specialists you need to check off from birth. These appointments are rarely convenient and never quick, so babywearing quickly became a part of our medical routine. Carriers helped keep my baby close and less exposed to germs when we had to make weekly trips to the pediatrician for weight checks as a newborn. They made it simpler to get from a parking garage to a hospital. They allowed Kerrigan to feel safe and comfortable enough to nap in unfamiliar environments when her schedule was disrupted by hours of travel and sitting in stuffy waiting rooms.
Babywearing makes so much more possible when going out with a special needs child
On a larger scale, what about general outings for children with special needs? Babywearing makes so much more possible. For a child with sensory needs, being in a carrier versus a stroller or walking offers a lot of comfort. Physical sensory input from being held, plus the closeness to a caregiver can make an overwhelming environment even just a tiny bit less terrifying. For a “runner,” babywearing eliminates the massive safety risk of your child disappearing into a crowd. Kerrigan is a total social butterfly and hates holding hands, so as much as we try to encourage her independence, we do tend to wear her when we’re traveling or anywhere with a large crowd. For kids with mobility limitations, babywearing affords them the opportunity to experience activities like traveling, hiking, or exploring the beach that otherwise might not be easily accessible to them. While Kerrigan is very physically driven and is a confident walker and runner, the hypotonia typically associated with Trisomy 21 does catch up to her occasionally, and it tires her little muscles out a bit earlier than a typical 2.5 year old might experience. Babywearing has meant we can head out on all types of adventures with her that wouldn’t be nearly as manageable sans carrier. Beach trips with no need to worry about sand burning her sensitive toesies, day trips to big cities where we don’t have to use a stroller as a battering ram in a crowd, hikes to waterfalls where we don’t have to panic that she’s going to break free and fall down a massive hill. An 8-mile jaunt
through NYC is no big deal, because she rides comfortably in the carrier until we hit Central Park, where she can get down and stretch her legs running through the playground.
Babywearing saves the day around the house, too
Even just within our home, babywearing has a firm function. I work full time, volunteer, and squeeze in 5 workouts a week. Throw in therapy sessions, Early Intervention meetings, specialist appointments…let’s just say multitasking is my #1 marketable skill in this phase of life. Being a mother is a great job for an octopus with all of those arms—but humans, with our measly two arms? Babywearing saves the day every single time. When I had a fussy infant and needed to get bottles washed and dried so I could pump, out came the carrier. If I’ve got a flight to catch and need to carry my kid—but also a rolling suitcase, a duffel bag, a carseat, and a diaper bag—carrier goes on, babe goes in. When I have a work event on a weekend and Kerrigan tags along, so does our carrier. When my daredevil toddler is trying to dive out of the cart at Target when I’m making a last-minute supply run…you guessed it. Carrier to the rescue! As a mom whose schedule is perpetually overfilled, having the use of both of my arms and hands has been life-changing. I truly don’t know how I would function as a parent without babywearing.
Babywearing as a special needs parent certainly has its limitations. Depending on your child’s needs, one style of carrier may work better for you than another. We have used a ring sling (sparingly, I’ll admit), several SSCs, and a Meh Dai, but Kerrigan’s physical support needs are those of a typically developing 2.5 year old, so we’ve dealt with very minimal requirements for support and no
additional safety concerns. As you’re exploring options for wearing your little one, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of consulting with not only your medical team, but also with trained and certified babywearing educators that can help guide you to a carrier that not only meets your needs, but your child’s as well. Carry Me Away has been in an invaluable resource to me during my time on their ambassador team, and I’m positive that if they personally cannot answer your questions, they’ll certainly work to connect you to someone who can!
Kayla Schadegg is a midwestern mama happily making the East coast her home. She is a lover of fitness, baby & toddler wearing, and Trisomy 21 advocacy efforts. You can follow her journey on Instagram at @mrs.schadegg or @extra.ordinary.blog