As a parent that has successfully been breastfeeding my daughter since she was born, I can attest to the fact that breastfeeding a child with Down Syndrome is an amazing and worthwhile experience. It is not a possibility that should be dismissed once you’ve discovered your baby has Down Syndrome.
There may be many people that tell you they tried and it didn’t work because children with Down Syndrome have a tongue that thrusts itself forward when eating or drinking. This may be a slight obstacle that will need to be addressed, but it will not stop your child from satisfying a need for sustenance. The same action an infant uses to breastfeed is used to drink from a bottle! With the use of nipple shields and aid from local lactation consultants, you, too, can be successful.
I didn’t suspect my daughter had Down Syndrome when she was first born, even with her being 3 ½ weeks early, so I treated her like my previous child and set to breastfeed her as soon as I could. Within the first hour of her life, she latched on without any trouble and drank from my breasts. She continued to breastfeed well up through the morning hours when my pediatrician came to me with her concern that Kara had Down Syndrome. Upon this announcement came a request to do a host of tests to make sure Kara didn’t have any lung or heart problems. She spent the rest of the day connected to an EKG machine, an X-ray machine and an echo- cardiograph machine. Throughout all of this, she maintained a 3- hour feeding schedule and I didn’t have any trouble keeping up with her. It wasn’t until the following day, when she slept 6 hours because of being so exhausted from the previous day. She became badly jaundiced and had a hard time staying awake long enough to breastfeed. My breasts became too engorged and made it impossible for her tiny mouth to latch on. Because of all this, my 4.8 oz daughter lost more than 10% of her body weight. This did not deter me, although most of the nurses continued to tell me I should begin bottle- feeding her. I began pumping (for the first time in my life) in order to keep up my milk supply and provide breast milk to syringe feed her with. I tried every feeding to get her to latch on and if she wouldn’t, I would syringe feed her while she was sucking on one of my fingers. I kept this up for a day and a half until her jaundice levels dropped. This took 24- hour time spent wrapped in a billy ruben blanket and feeding every 3 hours. At about 4 AM on Saturday morning, Kara woke up in the nursery and cried until a nurse brought her to me and suggested to try feeding her (even though she had eaten less than 3 hours prior). I tried and was in utter tears as she latched on and began feeding from me again. A day later, we left the hospital a happy couple as she was feeding off me again and her jaundice level was slowly decreasing.
With a visit from a wonderful lactation consultant the next day to reduce my worries and encourage me on with a few tips and tricks, I kept going in breastfeeding Kara and will continue hopefully until she is 2 years old.
If you would like more information about the benefits of breastfeeding your infant with Down Syndrome, you can go to the following links: