Breastfeeding and Babies with Down Syndrome

Julie · August 17, 2020
Down Syndrome shouldn't be an obstacle when it comes to breastfeeding your baby. We'll tell you what you need to know in today's article.

Some consider Down Syndrome to be an impediment to breastfeeding. However, breastfeeding babies with Down Syndrome actually offers numerous benefits.

Down Syndrome is a genetic alteration that results from an extra chromosome in the chromosome pair number 21. For this reason, Down Syndrome is also known as Trisomy 21. Chromosomes are the part of our DNA that contains genetic material. Down Syndrome is the principal cause of intellectual disability and is the most common genetic alteration among humans. It affects brain and organ development.

This condition involves cardiac and digestive alterations, and the cause of this genetic alteration is still unknown. However, there are certain factors that increase the chances of giving birth to a child with Down Syndrome. These include:

  • The advanced age of the mother
  • Having a previous child with Down Syndrome
  • When one of the parents possesses this genetic translocation

In the case that doctors diagnose this chromosomopathy, mothers can choose to interrupt their pregnancies or continue forward. Parents should make sure they are well-informed in order to make an informed, voluntary, and conscious decision either way. What’s more, they should be able to count on the support and respect of health professionals no matter what they decide.

In the United States, the life expectancy of persons with Down Syndrome is approximately 60 years. This number has increased since 1983 when it was only 25 years, due to the end of the inhumane institutionalization of this population.

Early detection of Down Syndrome

During a pregnant woman’s first trimester, she can undergo fetal screening in order to detect this chromosomal anomaly. This study provides statistical information regarding the chances of the baby being born with Down Syndrome.

Breastfeeding and Babies with Down Syndrome

Not only does the study indicate the probability of a baby having Down Syndrome, but also Edward Syndrome and Patau SyndromeRisk is calculating by taking into account the following factors:

  • The mother’s age
  • Certain markers obtained from ultrasound during the first trimester
  • Biochemical levels in the mother’s blood during the first analysis during pregnancy.

The biochemical levels that this study looks at must be obtained during specific weeks of gestation – normally, around weeks 9 or 10 – obtaining the free fraction of the pregnancy hormone (B-hCG) and the values of the placenta protein associated with pregnancy (PAPP-A).

The ultrasound must take place between 11 weeks and 2 days and 13 weeks and 6 days. The marker that the ultrasound technician measures that will help evaluate the risk is nuchal translucency (NT). This is because unborn babies with Down Syndrome have a larger quantity of fluid in this space.

Additional studies for the detection of Down Syndrome

If specialists consider the risk to be high, depending on the risk and the services available, the mother will have the option of non-invasive prenatal testing or an amniocentesis.

Non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) consists of a genetic test that allows for the analysis of chromosomal anomalies in the fetus. It involves studying a sample of the mother’s blood, looking at the fetus’s DNA. Some insurance companies cover the cost of this test in the case of high-risk pregnancies. Otherwise, it can cost upwards of $800.

Amniocentesis consists of obtaining a sample of amniotic fluid to look for abnormal fetal chromosomes. Doctors perform an abdominal puncture to obtain the sample. Therefore, it is an invasive study that involves a risk of miscarriage.

Breastfeeding and Babies with Down Syndrome

Breastfeeding babies with Down Syndrome

Newborn babies with Down Syndrome possess three characteristics that can make breastfeeding more challenging. These characteristics are:

  • Glossoptosis: Downward displacement or retraction of the tongue
  • Macroglossia: Abnormal enlargement of the tongue in proportion to other structures in the mouth
  • Hypotonia: Low muscle tone, often involving reduced muscle strength

The practice of breastfeeding helps improve tongue coordination and control in babies with Down Syndrome. This results in fewer speech problems and the strengthening of orofacial muscles and the jaw. Also, it provides additional stimulation.

Therefore, there’s no reason to consider Down Syndrome an impediment when it comes to breastfeeding your little one. On the contrary, breastfeeding offers a number of benefits that you should take advantage of.