Can a baby with Down syndrome learn how to nurse and be strong enough to nurse successfully? It may take a little longer for the baby to learn how to suck well, or for an experienced nursing mother to learn the particular “trick,” but with a little patience, and lots of love, it can be done!
A child born with Down syndrome may be a little sleepier and have a poor sucking reflex, while others may have respiratory problems and more serious difficulties. If your baby is weak at birth, he may experience some difficulty in learning to suck and swallow, so you will need to be calm and patient while he/she learns.
Babies with Down syndrome may be placid and sometimes have low muscle tone and generalized weakness at birth. Therefore, the mother will have to learn to be a clock watcher, picking the baby up frequently and offering the breast, rather than waiting for him to cry to be fed. The baby should be encouraged to nurse about every two hours during the day and several times during the night. Sometimes mothers have trouble getting the baby’s tongue down from the roof of his mouth. If this happens, insert the tip of your finger between the roof of the baby’s mouth and the tongue in an
upside down position, then turn the finger over, to condition the sucking reflex. This procedure can be repeated four or five times before each nursing, starting with the finger at the front of the baby’s mouth and pushing it slowly into the baby’s mouth so the baby will think he is drawing in.
Stay in close contact with your doctor so that he/she can continue to evaluate your baby’s progress. Let your doctor’s advice and your baby’s needs be your guide. Many babies with Down syndrome are slow, leisurely nursers, so long feedings are to be anticipated.
If you are in the Evansville area you may contact Julie Klenck, breastfeeding specialist and mother of a child with Down syndrome, at email@example.com.