Guest blog post by Bob Vogel
A good friend excitedly shared the news that she is expecting her first child. She is a T4 complete paraplegic and asked if I had any adaptive ideas that will make parenting easier.
Although my daughter Sarah is going on 11-years old, it seems like just yesterday that I was asking the same question, and coming up with solutions of my own — here are some of my favorites.
1. Develop a shift schedule for sleeping
The first adaptive parenting hurdle Joanna and I ran into had nothing to do with disability — it was figuring how to adapt and function on little to no sleep. As any parent can tell you, the feeding and changing needs of a new baby quickly lead to sleep deprivation that rivals commercial crab fisherman. Our method to battle this was to parent around a “shift schedule” — “on watch” spending nights on the futon next to the bassinet for 72-hours, while the other parent got to sleep in the bedroom with the door closed.
2. Find a table for changing diapers that’s wheelchair accessible
To make it easier for me to change Sarah we put a changing pad on the dining room table — dinner parties would be a distant dream for a while — because the table was the perfect height and enabled me to wheel right up to the table to change her. A word of caution on changing — there is a Velcro strap in the center of a changing pad, it is there to secure your infant’s mid section so they don’t scoot off the table. Get in the habit of using this early — many parents can attest there is no warning between, “The baby never scoots” and, “I turned my head and the baby scooted off the table and onto the floor!”
3. A high chair with wheels
Kristi Hruzewicz has a 6-month-old boy named Alex. Hruzewicz — a T4 para — adds some adaptive tips. She recommends the Chicco high chair (see resources) because it has wheels and you can roll the baby around the house with you when they are awake or sleeping. It also has a reclined position so you can use it on infants that don’t have the ability to hold their head up yet.
4. Bassinet/crib that has sides that lower or open
For sleeping, Hruzewicz uses a Side Crib (see resources) bassinet that has a side that lowers so she doesn’t have to lift Alex up and over the side of the bassinet. She says when Alex outgrows the bassinet she has a standard size crib that has sides that open like a barn-door so she can easily wheel him in and out of the crib. This is great idea, as I recall it was really difficult trying to get Sarah up and over the rails of her crib from my wheelchair and even more difficult to get her out of the crib.
5. Lifting an Infant or Toddler
To make it easier to pick up your child Hruzewicz suggests a Baby B’Air Flight Vest, a small cotton vest designed to secure an infant to the seatbelt on an airplane (see resources). Hruzewicz says being able to grab the vest makes it much easier to pick her child up from a chair and makes her feel like a momma cat.
6. Use a baby sling or carrier for transporting an infant
When it comes to carrying an infant or toddler all day — we wheelchair users have a huge advantage — a permanent lap. When Sarah was an infant I carried her in a baby sling (see resources). A word of caution, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued an advisory safety warning on the proper way to use an infant sling (see resources).
When Sarah was strong enough to hold her head up, I switched from the baby sling to a BabyBjorn baby carrier (see resources). At the time it was the only chest pack baby carrier that enabled carrying a toddler with their legs facing forward, so they can sit on your lap in your wheelchair. Although it’s kind of pricy, you can find them used on craigslist or eBay and when your child outgrows it they sell quickly online.
As Sarah outgrew the need for the chest pack I made a custom seat strap to keep her on my lap, it consisted of a soft stretchy material about 6″ wide and long enough to wrap around my back and Sarah’s waist. It also had Velcro on one side that made it easy to instantly put it on or take it off.
To this day I treasure memories and the time I was able to spend with Sarah on my lap, doing anything from working at the computer and puttering around the house, to going on walks.
I do have a couple important words of caution about wheeling with an infant or toddler in your lap. First, be aware that the extra weight of your child in your lap puts extra load on your wheelchair’s front casters that will make them more susceptible to catch on rocks or cracks. The added weight on your lap also puts added pressure on your butt — it is important to be extra vigilant with mirror skin checks.
7. Develop a method for putting the infant into a car seat
Last, but not least is figuring out how to get an infant into a car seat. I found the best way to do this was to strap Sarah in the car seat when it is free from the base — then with her securely fastened in, move it across the back seat of the car to the car seat base and latch it into the base. It is a maneuver that works, but takes quite a bit of time — and I learned to plan extra time into my trips accordingly.
When Sarah was finally big enough that she no longer needed a car seat — at age 7 — simply getting my chair in and out of the car seems like a breeze.
- Baby B’Air Flight Vest:http://www.babybair.com/product.html
- Baby Bjorn Baby Carrier:http://www.babybjorn.com/products/baby-carriers/baby-carrier-synergy/synergy/
- Baby Sling Advisory:http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml10/10165.html
- Example of Baby Sling:http://www.amazon.com/Karma-Organic-Cotton-Twill-Sling/dp/B001TEIS0A
- Chicco High Chair:www.chiccousa.com/gear/highchairs-hookons/polly-highchairs/polly-highchair-adventure.aspx
- Side Crib:http://www.diapers.com/p/arms-reach-concepts-inc-mini-co-sleeper-natural-74235?site=CI&utm_source=cse&utm_medium=cpc_D&utm_campaign=Google&utm_content=pla&ci_sku=AR-036&ci_gpa=pla&ci_kw=%7Bkeyword%7D
*The ROHO Group is not endorsing these products and we have not tested them.
Bob Vogel, 51, is a freelance writer for the ROHO Community blog. He is a dedicated dad, adventure athlete and journalist. Bob is in his 26th year as a T10 complete para. For the past two decades he has written for New Mobility magazine and is now their Senior Correspondent. He often seeks insight and perspective from his 10-year-old daughter, Sarah, and Schatzie, his 9-year-old German Shepherd service dog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of Bob Vogel and do not necessarily reflect the views of The ROHO Group. You can contact Bob Vogel by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.