Who's carrying the baby?

Chris Edwards, a disabled father from Thornbury, Gloucestershire, UK, tested the wheelchair baby carrier for the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering. Chris talked about his experiences of using the baby carrier to Shanta Everington, Commissioning Editor.

I’m 33 years old and father to Grace, aged one. I’ve had cerebral palsy and spastic diplegia since birth and am a full-time wheelchair user. I wanted to be as actively involved a parent as my wife but didn’t know what was out there to help. While my wife could easily take Grace out and about by pushing a pram, I needed something to enable me to push a pram at the same time as self-propelling my wheelchair.

Wheelchair baby carrier

My occupational therapist told me about the wheelchair baby carrier produced by the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering (BIME).

Nina, the senior occupational therapist at BIME, came round to see me with an engineer called Roger, who fitted the baby carrier to my wheelchair. It’s suitable for use with babies from about six months upwards. The beauty of the three-wheel baby carrier is that it is so simple and really user-friendly. It’s lightweight and locks onto the front of the wheelchair. It’s really quick to attach and take off, which is fantastic. This means that I can turn Grace round in the freestanding baby carrier to face me to feed her when we’re out and about.

I understand that the baby carrier was developed with a lot of input from parents. Although my involvement happened near the end of the
project, I was nevertheless able to share my user experience, together with my previous experience of working for a lightweight wheelchair manufacturer, to give some practical feedback to BIME.

Road testing

It does take a little bit of practice at first to learn how to manoeuvre the wheelchair with the baby carrier attached, particularly in confined spaces, as the baby carrier adds length onto the wheelchair. That’s something potential users need to be aware of as well as the fact that it adds extra weight to the front. This wasn’t a problem for me as I have good upper body strength but it might be an issue for some people. I actually found that the extra weight even helped wheelchair manoeuvrability on some occasions, such as going uphill, as it helps prevent tipping. But the baby carrier really comes into its own on flat surfaces.

You do need to be careful when attaching the baby carrier not to allow it to tip. However, the baby is strapped in so it is quite safe. The model involved a trial braking system but I found that more of a hindrance than a help and this is something I believe BIME is still looking at. If further improvements were being considered, I would suggest that the baby carrier could perhaps do with being a bit lighter still for those who don’t have upper body strength, as the ease of use will depend on an individual’s personal mobility. It would also be good to have a reversible feature where you can lock the baby carrier in place with the baby facing you.

Independence as a parent

I’ve been using the baby carrier now for about six or seven months. It has really given me independence as a parent and helped me to get out of the house more. As a family, we use it to go to the shopping complex, around the park and so on. My wife is going back to work soon and I’ll be looking after Grace solo two days a week. The wheelchair baby carrier has given me a lot of confidence.

I regularly get stopped in the street by other wheelchair users, asking about the baby carrier. I’ve had a very positive response so far from people I’ve spoken to. The most positive aspect of using the baby carrier has been Grace’s reaction. I’ve never had any problems getting her in. In fact, she prefers being in the baby carrier to being in her pram. She wants to see where she’s going and, this way, she gets a much better view. The BIME baby carrier has transformed family life for us.

Product information

The BIME baby carrier is a three-wheel, lightweight, folding design with a simple locking mechanism and universal mounting brackets to fit to all manual wheelchairs. It attaches to the front of the wheelchair by connecting one side at a time. The large front wheel helps manage uneven ground and thresholds. The frame of the baby carrier can adjust to fit different widths of wheelchairs and can accommodate rigid frame or hanging footplates. The baby carrier can be used freestanding.

For further information, contact:

Bath Institute of Medical Engineering

The Wolfson Centre

Royal United Hospital

Bath BA1 3NG

Tel: 01225 824103

E-mail: info@bime.org.uk

Website: www.bime.org.uk

Update from BIME

Following Chris’s recent evaluation comments we have developed a new foot-operated castor brake for the baby carrier. We expect this to be a compact and practical solution. In addition, we have been working on DVD instructions to help parents set up the baby carrier and understand its features and operation. Currently, the baby carrier is not suitable for newborn babies and many parents opt to use slings during the early days. The carrier is intended to facilitate parents getting their children out and about from four months to the toddling stage.

The highlights of this project have been the meetings Roger and I have had with groups of parents and individual families. Their comments and practical experiences have been key to developing this product. It has taken a lot of work and determination to get this far and the encouragement from our volunteer user group has helped us to stay focused. In the longer term BIME would like to find a manufacturer to undertake the production and sales of the baby carriers, but until then BIME will ensure this product is available as an option for parents who are wheelchair users. We have a small batch of baby carriers, made in our workshops, available for sale direct from BIME. The cost is £450 – please contact us for more information.

Nina Evans, Bath Institute of Medical Engineering

First published in Disability, Pregnancy & Parenthood international, Issue 53/54, Spring/Summer 2006.

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