Babies have nine months in the womb to get to know their biological mothers, but adopted babies don’t have the same experience. It’s not surprising if you both feel a little strange around each other at first, which is why getting to know your baby is so important. Here’s what you can do to make your adopted baby feel more at home.
Court your child
Child protection advocate Robyn Wolfson Vorster (who is also an adoptive mom) points out that although you may have anticipated and loved your child for some time, she doesn’t know you yet. “Be sure to visit her in her space before you take her home – even if you battle with her current living conditions. Remember that although some organisations insist on three days of visits before taking your child home, you should let your child lead and continue with your visits until she is ready.”
As soon as your baby comes home, ensure the primary caregiver is the person doing all the nappy changes, bathing and feeding. Keep this up for the first month.
Give lots of hugs and contact
Robyn advises having lots of skin to skin contact with your baby – let her lie on your chest, bath together, and wear your baby in a baby carrier as you carry out tasks. It’s also a good idea to co-sleep, at least at first. “Places of safety are busy, noisy places, so your child will sleep better if she’s in a room with you or a sibling.”
Of course, you need to discipline your child, but Robyn warns that a lot of disciplinary methods may alienate children who are already traumatised. She recommends educating yourself about trauma and the unique needs of adopted children.
Remember that siblings don’t get to choose their brothers and sisters, so be sensitive to their fears and misconceptions, and take time to talk them over. Robyn says it’s important to include siblings by making them part of the courtship and caregiving process. The fact that few adopted children are newborn is a plus here, as they’re generally more robust. Even small siblings can help you complete basic tasks. A gift from the new baby to the biological sibling is a good idea (just as you would with a biological baby), and they may enjoy sharing a room at first, Robyn says. Finally, wherever possible, do not change the family’s birth order.
“The older, more anxious or more traumatised your child was prior to meeting you, the longer she may need before she truly feels comfortable,” Robyn says. “If you’re worried at any stage, seek professional help – sooner rather than later.”
More about the expert:
Robyn Wolfson Vorster is a child protection advocate, researcher and writer, with a special interest in adoption. She has four children: two step-daughters, a biological son and an adopted daughter ranging in age from 7 to 31, and a grandson who is almost two years old.
In her 16 years as journalist, Lisa Witepski’s work has appeared in most of South Africa’s leading publications, including the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Entrepreneur and Financial Mail. She has written for a number of women’s magazines, including Living & Loving, Essentials and many others, across topics from lifestyle to travel, wellness, business and finance. She is a former acting Johannesburg Bureau Chief for Cosmopolitan, and former Features Editor at Travel News Weekly, but, above all, a besotted mom to Leya and Jessica. Lisa blogs at whydoialwayscravecake.blogspot.com and lisa.witepski.blogspot.com, and tweets at @LisaWitepski.