Tips For Breastfeeding Your Baby With Down Syndrome

Breastfeeding a baby with Down syndrome may pose extra challenges but is well worth it for your baby's health and development and your relationship. Since Down syndrome affects each baby to a different degree, some babies will be easier to nurse than others. A baby with Down syndrome is born with the same feeding instincts as other babies, which should be put to use to get the best start to breastfeeding. In other ways he may need extra help.


Hypotonia, low muscle tone, is probably the most dominant shared characteristic of babies with Down syndrome that makes feeding difficult. The baby tends to be "floppy" and in need of extra head and body support while at the breast. The muscles of his face may make it difficult to form an adequate seal on the breast and a large floppy tongue may lack the central groove and peristaltic motion required for breastfeeding. In general your baby's suck may be weak. Breastfeeding is the best exercise for improving these conditions. Time will also help. Keeping your baby well supported will allow him to use all his energy and concentration for sucking and swallowing.

Your baby will be able to use his tongue and jaw better if he is swaddled with his hips and knees flexed, hands brought to midline and his shoulders slightly forward. If he has trouble staying attached, the dancer-hand position will help. Cup your hand under your breast and slide it forward so that three fingers support your breast. Make a U shape with your thumb and first finger and support your baby's jaw in that U. If his tongue movements are weak, gentle upward pressure with a fingertip under his chin, on the soft part behind the bone may help. You may find this easiest to do while holding your baby in a clutch, or football, position. Certain tongue exercises may be done prior to feeding to improve tone. A certified lactation consultant or speech pathologist can guide you.

The Good Baby

Newborns with down syndrome tend to be very sleepy and do not cry much. Don't count on him to set his feeding schedule. Try to waken him and feed him every two to three hours throughout the day and night. Skin to skin contact with you is a great way to stimulate his feeding instincts. You may even want to try Kangaroo Care. As your baby gets bigger he will be more awake and will tell you when he needs to eat.

It is important to watch for signs that your baby is getting enough to eat. Babies with Down syndrome often gain weight slower than other babies. This is often the result of a congenital heart defect, which affects almost half of children born with Down syndrome. You may need to pump your milk after feeds and offer it to your baby in an alternative way. A supplementer at the breast will encourage his breastfeeding skills. A skilled lactation consultant will help you and your baby get the most out of breastfeeding.