Breastfeeding the baby with Down Syndrome can be challenging, but with patience and persistence and as the baby grows in strength and muscle tone, breastfeeding will get easier. In the meantime, both you and your baby can enjoy all the special benefits that breastfeeding has to offer. Some of those added benefits include:

  • Protection from infection and bowel problems. Babies with Down Syndrome are especially prone to respiratory tract infections and problems of the bowel. Your milk will provide your baby with immunities to infection and ease of digestion that formula cannot.

  • Improved mouth and tongue coordination. Due to the unique sucking action required to breastfeed, these babies experience mouth and tongue coordination improvement which promotes their speech and language development later on.

  • Increased brain growth. Human milk has a fatty acid known as DHA that is not present in cow's milk. This fatty acid has been shown to increase brain growth and development. Several studies have shown that children who were breastfed generally score 8 points higher on IQ tests than their formula-fed peers. This increased brain stimulation is especially beneficial for the child with this disability.

  • Extra stimulation. The extra skin-to-skin contact that goes hand-in-hand with breastfeeding gives babies extra stimulation to more fully develop their capabilities.

  • Closeness between mother and baby. Nursing your baby with a special need assures that you spend lots of time cuddling and getting to know your baby better. It also can help you feel that you are doing something meaningful for your child's well-being.

  • Enhanced mothering skills. The skills you will use in the early weeks of breastfeeding to help your baby learn to nurse - the encouraging, the coaxing, and the teaching are the same skills you will need over the years to help your child reach his potential.

Seek local encouragement and support from a lactation consultant or La Leche League leader as you face the special challenges of nursing your baby. Listed below are additional resources you may find helpful:

  • National Down Syndrome Congress - (914)428-7100
  • National Down Syndrome Society - 1-800-211-4602
  • National Association for Down Syndrome - (708)325-9112

Written by Becky Flora, BSed, IBCLC

Last revision: June 25, 2001

Source: "La Leche League's, The Breastfeeding Answer Book" (1997) by Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC and Julie Stock, BA, IBCLC
More info and encouragement at other sites:

"A Father's Loving Care"

"Nobody Smiles Like I Do"

"Breastfeeding A Baby With Down Syndrome"

"Growth Charts for Children with Down Syndrome"

Down Syndrome Resources - a lengthy list of resources on Down Syndrome, including those found in print and on the internet

2010 Breastfeeding Essentials