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Attachment Parenting for Special Needs

ATTACHMENT PARENTING A SPECIAL NEEDS BABY [QUESTION {My wife and I are very committed to the principles of natural parenting promoted by you, La Leche League, and others. We just discovered that our first baby  --now at 21-weeks gestation  --has spina bifida. Our baby will be born by caesarean and taken immediately to spine and brain surgery. He or she will likely have significant learning disabilities  --like your baby Stephen  --and probably some paralysis of the legs.

We want to give our baby every advantage and all the love that we can. But we are afraid that the neurosurgeons, perinatalogists, and others will be opposed to our principles  --even apart from our baby's particular situation. For instance, will we be able to have a spina bifida baby in bed with us? How do we know what is safe and what is good for our baby with spina bifida? }]A You are about to have a baby with special needs who will [ITALIC {need a special kind of parenting. In fact, this style of parenting you have chosen  --we call it Attachment Parenting (AP)  --is the style of care that is most important for babies with special medical and emotional needs.

The components of AP are what we call "The Baby B's:" Birth Bonding, Baby Wearing, Breastfeeding, Bedding Close to Baby, Belief in Your Baby's Cries, and Beware of Baby Trainers. Because AP means a high level of touch and contact with your baby, it can lead to exhaustion and burn out if not practiced wisely. That's why we have recently added two more "Baby B's:" Balance (knowing when to say "yes" to your baby's needs and "yes" to your own) and Both (meaning both parents should share the care of baby when possible).

The Baby B's are connecting tools. They will help you to read your baby, especially in times of greater medical needs. Over the years I have noticed a phenomenon I call the "need level" concept  --babies with special needs bring out a higher level of care in their parents. Attachment parenting helps this happen.

You may find the first [BOLD {birth bonding}] somewhat challenging, because you are having a C-section and your baby will undergo surgery right away. Just remember that bonding is not an event like instant glue that cements mother and baby together. It's an ongoing process that only begins at birth. While your wife is recovering from surgery, your can bond with your baby right after birth by holding her patting her and singing to her. After mom has recovered from your surgery, the hands-on baby care begins.

Concerning [BOLD {breastfeeding,}] consider your breast milk as your baby's medicine. Babies with spina bifida are more prone to infections and breastfeeding builds your baby's immunity. Mother's milk is especially beneficial for children with spina bifida since human milk contains special omega-3 fats and other factors that enhance nerve growth. Surgery may delay her directly nursing from your breast, so it's important to pump milk beginning a few hours after birth. Instruct the doctors to give her your pumped milk, especially your colostrum  --the super milk produced in the first few days after birth. Even if your baby is temporarily too weak to suck from your breast, she can receive your colostrum and your breastmilk from a syringe. Chances are your baby will be transferred to a specialty hospital for her surgery. Most maternity wards have lactation consultants, specialists in breastfeeding, who will help you learn how to get your baby to latch on and get your milk most efficiently.

Let's review the rest of the Baby B's of AP: [BULLET {[BOLD {Belief in your baby's cries}] is especially important for babies with medical needs. Avoid the cry-it-out crowd. The more you hold, nurse, and wear your baby in a carrier the less likely she is to cry. Excessive crying wastes energy that your baby is going to need to heal and grow.}] [BULLET {[BOLD {Bedding close to your baby}] allows you to meet her nighttime needs more easily. Eventually, your wife will get into a pattern where she can nurse at night quickly, without either one of you fully awakening.}] [BULLET {[BOLD {Beware of baby trainers}] who offer a rigid scheduling and a more hands-off style of parenting. This style of baby care is marginal for all babies and certainly should not be used in babies with special medical needs.}] [BULLET {[BOLD {Balance}] and [BOLD {"both":}] In your zeal to give your baby the best parenting, it's easy to forget to take care of yourselves as individuals and as a couple. Realize that your wife is at a higher risk for mother burn out because you have a baby with special needs. Make sure she gets plenty of "me time" and "couple time" to recharge herself and the relationship the two of you have together. Your baby needs a happy, rested mother.}]

Attachment parenting is your best long-term investment. Our baby with special needs, Stephen, is now 15. We look back at those early years where we gave him high doses of AP, and it feels good to know we gave him the best we could when it made the most difference. It's true; you may not be able to practice all the Baby B's all the time because of your baby's special medical concerns. Just do the best you can with the resources you have. You will find more detailed information on using attachment parenting with special needs babies in our book, [ITALIC {The Attachment Parenting Book.}] Martha and I wish you the best. }]