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What It's Really Like to Adopt a Baby

Is She Behind?

"Her paperwork was totally off. It said she weighed 23 pounds, and she actually only weighs 18. She has the skinniest little legs and no muscle tone at all. She doesn't walk or crawl. Her bulky clothing was confining to her (typical in orphanages) and restricted her mobility. I know she is behind developmentally."

Expert Advice: It's not uncommon for children who have lived in an orphanage to have developmental delays. Over time, many improve on their own with developmental experiences and nurturing. "It's important to ensure that adopted children have normal hearing and vision when they first arrive home," recommends Prock. "Parents should also interact with their child verbally and nonverbally and try to engage in play. Within the early months post-adoption, many children may benefit from involvement with local early intervention programs. These are home-based developmental and behavioral support programs for children under the age of three. Health providers can refer children, or parents can Google 'early intervention program' for their state."

Sleep Struggles

"Last night she had a major meltdown. We couldn't put her down for even a minute, and she would not sleep at all. She was inconsolable, and I was beside myself. I just kept rocking her, and every time I put her down into her crib, she would cry again. The only thing that seemed to calm her was the rocking. So that's what I did. She finally fell asleep on top of me out of utter exhaustion."

Expert Advice: Getting a baby to fall asleep and stay asleep is the Holy Grail for all new parents, but adjusting to new sleep habits can be particularly hard for adopted babies, who may never have slept alone. If your child was in an orphanage, she may have shared a crib with another baby; if she was in foster care in a foreign country, it's possible she shared a bed with an adult. In addition to adjusting to everything else, she now has to learn to sleep independently, which might be difficult since adopted children often have anxiety symptoms that come out at night.

If possible, parents should try to learn as much history in regards to the child's pre-adoption sleeping habits. "If she was not sleeping alone, having her sleep in her room by herself the first night might not be best," notes Prock. Mom and dad can sleep in the same room as she does (the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants sleep on their backs on a separate sleep surface from their parents) as a first step to independent sleeping, and then gradually move farther away over time as the child tolerates separation from the parents. At the end of the day, families just want to get a good night's sleep, and there are many ways to do that.