Having a baby is the most wonderful thing, but it turns your world upside down and there’s so much to learn that quite frankly, it’s mind boggling. If you have a visual impairment, the usual advice that’s doled out at every turn, by every grandmother, aunt, friend, neighbour, woman behind you in the queue at the supermarket, might not apply. I am legally blind but have a bit of central vision which means some of my tips might not be applicable to blind and visually impaired mums who see differently to me, but hopefully, you’ll find some of them useful and be able to adapt the others to your own situation. I’m not an expert, but have come up with the following tips from my own experience and through a bit of research. Enjoy!
1. Feeding baby
For breast feeding mums, I found the most important thing to get right in the beginning is the positioning. I would use my hands to gently feel my baby’s face and make sure she was nose to nipple, then tickle her bottom lip which encouraged her to open her mouth wide, before allowing her to latch on. After a few days, you get to know what feels right and what doesn’t, so trust your instincts and if you’re not sure, unlatch and try again. If you’re in any doubt at all it’s always best to seek professional help as early on as possible. Your health visitor will know of local experts who can often visit you at home if they know you have a visual impairment that makes travelling difficult.
For bottle feeding mums, look out for bottles with raised measurement lines. If you prefer a style of bottle that doesn’t have these, use talking scales to weigh the milk instead.
Whichever method you choose, keep a muslin cloth on you shoulder so you don’t end up with baby stealth sick on you. When you can’t see it, there’s a real danger of walking around with sick on you until someone points it out!
2. Changing nappies
Be prepared! Have a place for everything and everything in its place when it comes to the changing station. Know exactly where to reach for the wipes, nappies, nappy bags, cream, clean clothes and the bin. Check regularly if you need to replenish anything. Clean systematically when changing nappies. Devise a routine of wiping your little one’s bottom and thigh areas in a certain order. We can’t see where the dirt is, so it’s a good idea to cover all bases.
3. Mark the middle of the cot
Place some kind tactile marker in the centre point of the longest side of the cot, just make sure it’s nothing that is small that can fall into the cot that your baby might put in their mouth. I attached a small soft cloth to the top of the middle rail. This is so when you put the baby down, you can feel for the cloth or whatever marker you choose and you know you are placing them in the middle of the cot, not squished up at one end. I think the official advice is to put them towards the foot of the cot so you definitely don’t want them squished up at the top end!
4. Make baby clothes easily identifiable
Babies grow quickly and there’s nothing more frustrating than wrestling a baby into a sleepsuit before realising it’s too small. Cut the bottom right corner of the label on 0-3 months clothes, the left corner on 3-6 months and a snip in the centre for 6-9 months. The pattern can be repeated for each size after that too.
5. High-vis baby!
If you take baby to a busy place like a play group, dress them in bright colours so you can find them easily if you put them down. When mine were very small, I had a series of brightly coloured baby grows with bold patterns, like yellow and black stripes (yes, a la bumble bee). These tended to show up well against any background.
6. Get a sling or a carrier
Prams can be cumbersome and learning to pull one is not easy, which you might need to do if you’re visually impaired. If you can master a sling or a baby carrier, you are hands free so can still use a cane if you want to, it’s much easier to get on and off public transport and you always know exactly where your baby is – on you!
7. Get a baby towel apron
This is a towel that secures at the back of your neck with press studs and ties around your waist. The idea is that you put it on you before bathe your baby. Then when you’re finished, simply cradle the baby in the towel, lift the bottom part up and undo the press studs behind your neck – et voila! Baby is safely and snuggly wrapped in the towel and you haven’t had to feel around for the towel on a rail (which is usually just out of reach!) whilst trying to support baby in the bath. I used the ‘Cuddledry Organic Cotton Apron Baby Bath Towel’ from John Lewis and loved it. It’s out of stock at the moment but there are lots of options at every price point at Mothercare, Amazon and TK Maxx.
8. Get sleep suits with foldover handcovers
Although I can do most things despite being visually impaired, I conceded that I probably wasn’t the best person to cut my new born baby’s nails. That was my husband’s job, but when he wasn’t around and baby’s nails were feeling a bit sharp, I’d worry she might scratch herself. Most people will agree that scratch mitts are useful for approximately 2.5 seconds before they mysteriously slide of the baby’s hands and one of them disappears forever. Sleepsuits that have foldover handcovers are the way forward.
9. Get an accessible thermometer
When you suspect baby is ill in the early days, it can be quite distressing. Be prepared with an accessible thermometer. For me that was a digital one with a backlight and large numbers. There are also talking thermometrea available if they are more appropriate.
If you are a visually impaired mum in the UK, this is my single most important tip for you! This is a wonderful organisation that does what their name suggests. They connect blind and visually impaired mums on Facebook, Whatsapp groups, by email and Skype calls. They cover everything from pregnancy to every stage of parenting. You connect with many blind mums who give great advice, listen to you rant and share stories of success – an inspiring group of ladies! They can also put you in touch with professionals if you are struggling with something in particular, such as breastfeeding or choosing a sling. The ladies who run the group are professionals and are fantastic. Plus, unlike me, they know what they’re talking about, whereas I just made it all up as I bumble through motherhood. They are AMAZING. Check them out.
So, there are my handy hints, favourite products and a few techniques that got me through the newborn days. One more thing, a bonus tip if you will – accept help! Being a mum to a newborn is a minefield and blind or not, we could all do with a helping hand along the way. So if it is offered, accept it. If you are feeling overwhelmed and nobody seems to be offering any help, seek it out. Ask a family member, a friend, a neighbour or talk to your health visitor.
If you’re a new mum and feel a bit overwhelmed, you might also like to read A Letter to Visually Impaired, New Mums.
I hope you have enjoyed my little tips. Let me know if you try any of them and how you get on, or if you have any tips of your own. I’d love to hear from you!