Down syndrome occurs when a baby has three copies of a particular gene, specifically the 21st chromosome. This condition is known as Trisomy 21.
• There may be folds over the inner parts of the eye.
• Flattened nose /nasal bridge.
• A smaller than usual mouth.
• Shorter in length than average.
• Flattened forehead.
• Down Syndrome symptoms include developmental delays, which vary in severity.
• Low muscle tone.
• There may be a large tongue that might protrude slightly from the mouth.
• Broad hands with shortened fingers.
• A crease across the palm of the hand.
• Gastrointestinal problems may be present in some children with Down Syndrome.
• Congenital heart defects (occurs in about 50% of those with Down Syndrome)
About half of all babies with Down Syndrome, show no trouble establishing breastfeeding, while a few take a week or so to get the hang of it.
Things that may cause breastfeeding problems
• Low muscle tone: This can result in a poor/weak suck. This may improve with time.
• Protruding tongue: This may cause difficulty in forming a seal while breastfeeding.
Why is breastfeeding more important for Down Syndrome babies?
• Breast milk helps protect against respiratory tract infections.
• Breast milk helps protect against bowel problems.
• The act of breastfeeding promotes better oral development and helps prevent speech problems later on.
• Breastfeeding and skin to skin contact promote a bond between mother and child.
• Breast milk is always best. If the baby can take fluids in via the mouth, breast milk should be given. It offers the most protection and is more easily digested than any type of formula. The baby can be fed expressed breast milk until it is possible for him/her to breastfeed. If the mother has a low milk supply, she can use an SNS with Donor milk, if necessary.
• A baby who has Down syndrome and low muscle tone will need head support while breastfeeding. The baby’s neck should not be extended, but in a neutral position to avoid tongue protrusion.
• Babies with Down syndrome often have smaller jaws, this is why it is essential that the baby covers more of the areola on the lower jaw while breastfeeding. They should take time to perfect a latch.
• The mother might need to support her baby’s jaw, using the U-hold while breastfeeding.
• She might need to use a nipple shield, to provide a firmer nipple for her baby to latch on to.
• Breast compression and massage can help the baby receive more milk and more of the fattier hindmilk during a feed.
• She might need to pump in-between feedings to keep her supply high. She can also pump after feedings. The high-calorie hindmilk pumped after a feeding can be given to the baby to increase weight gain.
• If the baby is extremely sleepy, here are a few tips that can help.
• If the baby gulps or chokes while feeding, the mother can try to breastfeed her baby in a more upright position, or in the lying down position.
• A baby with Down syndrome may need to be burped more often during feedings.
Patience and practice are needed, but breastfeeding does get easier as the baby develops.
Tracy Behr, CBC, CLD (CBI)
Reference: Breastfeeding counselor course through Child Birth International on the physiology of breastfeeding / Health problems / Down syndrome baby.
End of Down Syndrome Baby page