Disclaimer: The information derived below is based on my first-hand experience of parenting with a disability, for guidance and awareness purposes of the public. I am not affiliated with any of the products linked below and all opinions are my own.
They wouldn’t like to admit it, but 98% of new Mothers and Fathers to-be end up Googling ‘How to change a nappy’ somewhere in the duration of the pregnancy, maybe even multiple times to arm themselves with many a technique! Being very much a researcher, I was a Mum-to-be that found the internet far more accessible than heaving around pregnancy and baby-rearing books – because I was transitioning from a disabled person to a disabled parent.
Knowing that parenting would have its own set of challenges for me with a muscle-wasting condition, which rendered me a wheelchair user with significant arm weakness as well, I became concerned when it became apparent there were no articles, guides, or blog posts about how to change a babies nappy when the parent had a physical disability. I couldn’t decide whether it was that in 2012 and ’15 (when I had my children) parenting with a disability was still taboo territory, met with great stigma or if disabled parents themselves were too scared to admit there are additional struggles – nevermind voice them and publically troubleshoot with like-minded Mums and Dads. Whatever the reason, like so many others, I had to simply figure it out on my own.
Here are the key things I learnt and when solved, made the biggest difference to enable me to be as independent as possible when it came to nappy changes.
1. Prep ahead with sticky tabs and wipes
If you struggle with fiddly things like buttons and zips, the little sticky tabs on disposable nappies can be most infuriating! I found it less stressful committing some time to pre-peel the tabs ahead of time as they are far easier to peel back the 2nd time when you actually go to use them. Or if you cannot grip the tab at all – you can actually buy what are called “nappy pants” which are pull-ups for any age baby, yet have the same high absorption as your standard nappy. Literally, the only difference is how it fastens on baby – they go on just like underwear!
As for baby wipes, every parent gets in a flap when baby’s had a poo-nami and you’re there frantically jiggling the packet to get a wet wipe, but the whole wad of baby wipes insists on coming out at the same time – Grrr! Before you get baby undressed ready for a nappy change, give them a toy and take a minute to get the individual wipes out, estimate how many you usually need and lay them on top of the packet ready, that way there’s no fighting with the packet at crucial moments!
Alternatively, you can get a wipe dispenser and use a special folding mechanism (with the baby wipes or cloths of your choice), to create easy to tug out wipes with minimal fiddling.
2. Have distractions at your disposal!
Having a disability for a lot of people means it can take longer to do things than the average person. No matter if your disability is physical, visual, etc. Babies are not the most patient of beings, especially when it involves being hungry or wet/dirty. Like many Mums, the minute my littles started screaming the house down it’s as if my body went even S-L-O-W-E-R in the panic of figuring out what baby may be needing and getting the job done. To combat some of the stress created by a crying infant, I kept a box of baby toys next to the changing area to keep them distracted. At one point I even bought a change mat with a toy arch over the top. Mirrors next to the changing area can also be a good distraction. Just make sure you have lots of options in case baby isn’t happy with the first thing that comes to hand. If you can manage to change baby in a dimly lit room, music and putting a baby projector on where it’s floating on the ceiling above where your changing has been a good contender in the past for my eldest, particularly in the depth of nighttime. Distraction options are endless really, so try a few different ones and see what works to keep your baby calm during changes!
3. Combating barrier cream chaos
As somebody who has weakness that includes my dexterity muscles, I often found tubes of nappy cream so infuriating and wasteful. Not having the strength to squeeze it beyond the 1st few uses, I found myself tossing it aside and buying a brand new one, which was easier to use before the last was even near running out. Always wanting to do my bit for the environment I was eager to come up with a fast solution. One day I upcycling an old exfoliating pads pot with a screw-on lid and asked my PA to squirt the entire contents of baby bum cream into it instead. Screw it on enough for a little seal, but loose enough to untwist and jobs a good en’! A lot can be said for using an old container that is already tried and tested for your ability to use, try it…
4. Choose practical baby clothes that you can manage
It’s common knowledge amongst parents of more than 1 child that you buy your 1st born the most clothes and practicality doesn’t really get thought of. The adorability factor is the focus! I admit myself, I only thought of practicality to an extent with my 1st born. I wanted to buy mostly zip-up sleepsuits, but I didn’t realise they are quite hard to come by for younger babies. I kicked myself for not having a talk with relatives about veering away from baby clothes with 100 poppers/press studs or other hard to fasten attachments because my girls hardly wore those cute outfits that their auntie/godparent ‘just had’ to get them and I just generally wish I’d of chosen clothing more realistically. Choosing outfits that are easier for your limitations, doesn’t mean you have to compromise on how cute it is, the world wide web is rife with baby clothes that tick both boxes – you just need to have an idea of what may work for you best and search for it. You can find out more specifically about what’s out there for parents with disabilities as far as baby clothes are concerned by reading – Disabled Mum’s Go-To-Guide | Adaptive Baby Clothes & Accessories
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for support
Despite all the advice and parenting books in the world, parents – regardless of ability – need help sometimes. Sleep deprivation can reak havoc on the fittest new Mum or Dad, throw in a medical condition, things evidently are going to be harder. Some parents with disabilities find not getting enough sleep makes their symptoms worse (such as Cerebral Palsy or M.S) and this can cause additional anxiety and/ self-doubt when it comes to performing everyday duties. More parents need to say “Yes” when friends and relatives offer to hold, feed, change a nappy or watch baby for a few hours to give them that vital time to recharge their batteries. You need to think about yourself, as well as your baby and not take accepting help as a failure in any way, shape or form. You need to take time for you, to better look after them…
If you are expecting and live with a physical/invisible disability/chronic illness that may make baby cares like nappy changes challenging, I hope some of these suggestions are helpful to you and to those reading to raise their own self-awareness of the struggles some disabled parents face in the early years, here’s hoping you’ve found this post insightful by creating a better understanding.