Down Syndrome breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can be hard work.  This is true under the best of circumstances as it requires patience, time, and a concerted effort.  When you have a child born with Down Syndrome, the patience, time and concerted effort are just magnified a bit more. However, breastfeeding a baby with Down syndrome can be successfully done by keeping just a few things in mind to help.

When you have a new baby, and a desire to breastfeed there are always obstacles.  Most babies, when given a chance, will learn to nurse well.  There are of course a few exceptions, and with special needs babies, this is so much truer.

Disclaimer: Let me pause for a moment though and say that if you have tried to breastfeed, and the health issues (such as open heart surgery or other major issue) have kept you from doing so, it’s okay, you are not a failure.  You can still pump breastmilk and give your baby lots of the liquid gold that is packed full of your antibodies, if you can’t do that, you still haven’t failed, if your babe is eating and gaining weight, that is all that matters.

For those babies whoare able to nurse, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Low muscle tone = patience when nursing

The most challenging issue for babies with Down Syndrome is that the hypotonia, or low muscle tone, that they often have makes for a weaker suck.  Typical babies, when latched, will not let go easily, it is like trying to remove a suction cup from your shower wall by pulling straight out, usually not possible, you have to lift a side of the suction before it will unstick from the wall.  A baby with Down Syndrome is like having that same suction cup, but maybe there was a bit of soap residue behind the suction and it pulls off easily.

The weaker suck means that the babies have to work considerably harder to feed, and mom has to be considerably more patient.  The feeds can take longer, babies often have to be “re-attached” and it is difficult when you are feeling hurried.

The bright side of this is the time spent with your baby.  Bonding with a special needs child can sometimes take a bit longer, breastfeeding definitely helps with the bond.

Creativity is a winner

Positioning can be a more creative venture when breastfeeding a baby with Down Syndrome.  There are a number of positions that are recommended for infants, but if your infant also happens to have oxygen cords, a floppy tone, and excessive drowsiness, you have to be a bit more creative.  Babies with Down Syndrome will often nurse best in the football hold or when held in a perfect plane across your body with their bottom just slightly higher than their heads.  Feel free to experiment though, each baby is a unique individual and you will find your own groove and discover what your baby likes or does well with.

Frequency is a must

Our babies, ones with Down syndrome, like to sleep.  At first they are often very drowsy and hard to rouse, even falling asleep in the middle of a feed.  This means mama has to be on her “A” game and keep up the good work.  Offering your breast frequently to your new babe, changing positions, even removing the snuggly clothes to give baby a bit of a reason to wake up, is necessary.  Keeping to an every 2-3 hour schedule for the first month until you start to see a steady weight gain is a wise idea.  Our babies have a slower growth rate than typical children so staying on top of frequent feeds will keep your babe on track.

Bowel issues are for the most part not going to be an issue while nursing.  Babies with Down syndrome are more prone to constipation issues (though not all of them have a problem) but the ones who can successfully breastfeed seem to escape this propensity.

Breastfeeding can be hard work.  This is true under the best of circumstances as it requires patience, time, and a concerted effort.  When you have a child born with Down Syndrome, the patience, time and concerted effort are just magnified a bit more. However, breastfeeding a baby with Down syndrome can be successfully done by keeping just a few things in mind to help.

When you have to pump, this is hands down my favorite pump that I have used for the last 17 years (yes it has lasted that long!) Mine is an older model but these things take a beating and keep on going!

*Check out this awesome printable (a free gift when you subscribe to my email list with the link below) to help you keep track of your feeds and baby’s weight gain.

breastfeeding tracker

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