A child is always a lot to take, and becoming a mum will be the most life-changing moment of your life. A baby with Down Syndrome will require more attention and care.
The most important thing to care for a baby with Down Syndrome is to be fully aware of what you’re dealing with. This is why you need all the information you can get. Read articles, talk to doctors and find support groups where you can meet people who are in the same situation: All of it will be of help.
For starters, you will need to know what makes a child with Down Syndrome different from other children – and also what makes him or her alike. After all, you are going to be the parent of a child nonetheless, and you should treat him or her as a child. Let’s take a look at the particularities of Down Syndrome so we can have a comprehensive overview about this condition.
What is Down Syndrome?
Down Syndrome is a chromosomal abnormality called trisomy 21, which means that the pair of chromosomes number 21 has suffered an abnormal mutation. Most chromosomal abnormalities haven’t even been determined because they end up in an early miscarriage, but trisomy 21 is one of the most common, happening in one out of every 700 babies.
A baby with Down Syndrome will have some physical and mental characteristics that will make him or her different from other children. Besides, there are certain health issues associated with the condition that parents will have to consider as well, so they can provide the baby with the care he or she needs. Nonetheless, a child with Down Syndrome is still a child: Your little one will look like you, and will have a personality of his or her own, will have fun, cry, learn, go to school, make friends and everything the rest of children do.
How will a child with Down Syndrome be like?
As we’ve mentioned, Down Syndrome comes with certain characteristics. Let’s take a look at the physical traits or Down Syndrome symptoms:
- The most remarkable trait of a baby with Down Syndrome will be their almond-shaped eyes, which can also come with small white marks in the irises (called Brushfield spots). The almond-shape of the eyes is also due to the existence of skin fold in their inner corners.
- The shape of their face is also quite distinctive: The head is small and also has small features, and it is flatter than usual. The ears also have a unique shape.
- Their tongue is larger than usual.
- The smallness of the features extends to other parts of the body, such as the hands or the fingers.
- Their muscle tone is lower than in children without Down Syndrome, and they are hyperflexible.
- They have one single and quite deep crease in the palm of their hands.
- There are particularities in the feet as well.
Not all babies with Down Syndrome have all the characteristics listed here. Besides, remember that your little one will also inherit features from mummy and daddy, so besides the distinctive almond-shaped eyes and flat face, they’ll also look like you!
Besides the physical traits, there are also some mental particularities that need to be carefully considered. For instance, intelligence in babies and children with Down Syndrome: most of them will be placed in the range of slight disability in standard tests, and you should expect some delay in reaching milestones or learning issues. However, keep in mind that standard intelligence tests don’t value all the types of intelligence that exist. More and more, some areas of the human mind are being understood as important aspects of our intelligence, and a Down Syndrome baby or child will have memory and creativity, and is likely to surprise you. Yes, there will be learning disabilities, but that doesn’t mean your child won’t be able to learn or grow. He will!
Finally, you should know that there are different levels of disability among children with Down Syndrome. There are different abnormalities in trisomy 21, and the health and learning problems they may encounter can differ as well.
What are the health issues related to Down Syndrome?
Unfortunately, there are some health considerations to keep in mind if you have a baby with Down Syndrome. Around half the children born with Down Syndrome will have to deal with heart defects. There are tests that will be performed after your child is born so they can be early diagnosed and monitored.
Besides heart conditions, a baby with Down Syndrome can also suffer from thyroid problems (mainly hypothyroidism) and eye problems, such as sight issues, cataracts or crossed eyes. Hearing problems are also common, as well as problems in the gastrointestinal tract. Besides, they’re usually more vulnerable to colds and infections.
These are the problems that can be detected once your baby is born, but you will need to watch carefully for other issues that are more common among people with Down Syndrome. Unfortunately, about 25% of adults with Down Syndrome will start showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s after they turn 35, although it typically doesn’t develop until later. Besides, although it’s still an uncommon disease, there is a higher risk of them developing leukemia.
What to do before welcoming a child with Down Syndrome
Before welcoming a baby with Down Syndrome you will have to do lots of planning and preparing… But just how any other parent would do. The most important is that your baby grows in a loving, stimulating environment. Get your nursery, your baby essentials and your hospital bag ready, get help from your friends and family and be ready to become a mum. All babies need constant care and attention, and yours won’t be any different.
However, there are some extra things that you could add to your list. Choose your paediatrician carefully, and it is recommended that you find a good specialist in Down Syndrome – probably, in your hospital they will be able to refer you to one of them. You can also seek help from support groups and other parents of children with Down Syndrome, so you can listen to first-hand experiences and get a clearer idea of what it’s going to be like.
Finally, take care of yourself as well. It makes no sense to deny that Down Syndrome is going to be an added difficulty to the many changes that await you, and it’s OK if you feel worried and sad. Don’t keep it all inside, and talk to someone. Giving birth and becoming a mum is hard, and there are many conditions associated to it that need to be acknowledge, such as postnatal depression. If you feel you may be at risk of suffering it, don’t keep it to yourself.
We’ve mention heart problems as one of the congenital health issues common to babies with Down Syndrome. Knowing this, it’s probably a good idea to give birth in a hospital, so reconsider your decision if you wanted to have a home birth or a water birth. Of course, you can talk to your midwife and doctors about it, since they will be able to give you the best advice according to your particular situation.
Caring for a baby with Down Syndrome
As you have learned in the previous lines, your baby with Down Syndrome will be a little different, and there will be some things you will have to consider to make sure he’s developing happy and well. There is no Down Syndrome treatment, but there are some extra things you’ll have to pay attention to. We’d like to be of help with the following tips and useful information:
- Breast milk always makes things better: Babies with Down Syndrome are more vulnerable to colds, infections and respiratory diseases, so they could really benefit from the protection that comes from breastfeeding. Besides, it will strengthen his or her facial muscles, which will prove useful later on. However, there may be some extra difficulties added, since it can be more difficult for them to latch on correctly. Work on it with your doctor and midwife, and ask for a lactation specialist if you’re set on breastfeeding and are having problems.
- Extra care in dreamland… Babies with Down Syndrome have a bigger tongue, which can make them more vulnerable to obstructive sleep apnea – which means that their tongue falls on the back of the throat and they stop breathing for short periods of time. Now don’t panic, because this doesn’t mean that your little one will choke while sleeping! It just means that you should be aware of weird noises or restlessness while your baby is sleeping. It’s also recommendable that they have a sleep study later on.
- And by the doctor: As you have seen, babies and children with Down Syndrome have a more delicate health, so be prepared to visit your paediatrician often. It doesn’t mean that your little one will always be sick, of course, but it’s good to keep a more regular schedule of visits to make sure everything’s OK.
- Milestones under control: Learning disabilities are part do Down Syndrome, so be patient if your little one isn’t reaching baby milestones at the same path other babies do. Besides, they have a lower muscle tone, which makes reaching physical milestones like crawling or walking also harder for them. There are physical therapies available, as well as speech and language therapies and others that will help your little one get there. You can also help them with baby brain stimulation games, by talking to them, and cheering them. They will get there – it will take them a bit longer, but they will!
Nowadays, there are more options for children with Down Syndrome than years ago. Your child will need more support, but with a caring, loving and stimulating environment, he or she will also be able to excel. They will go to regular school and will be able to socialise and make friends, they will be able to study, get a job, have relationships and contribute to their community. They will need for you to help them grow strong and aware that they have Down Syndrome, but there is no reason why your little one couldn’t live a happy life.