Brighter Tomorrows logo

Breast Feeding / Nutritional Issues

Click to open printable PDF document

Many parents of children with Down syndrome wonder about breastfeeding, and you may want additional information on this topic. While the benefits of breastfeeding are well known for newborns in general, there are several significant advantages that breastfeeding affords children with Down syndrome.

  • Breastmilk provides extra protection against infections and bowel problems which babies with Down syndrome are more likely to develop.
  • Breastfeeding improves mouth and tongue coordination, which will be very important as your child begins to develop the sounds needed for speech.
  • The act of breastfeeding provides additional stimulation for a baby.
  • Breastfeeding promotes closeness between mother and baby, and usually enhances the mother-child bond.

Extra patience and reasonable expectations are critical, however, when breastfeeding a baby with Down syndrome. Low muscle tone and a weak suck can impede the baby's ability to breastfeed. Here are a few tips that may help a mother breastfeed her baby with Down syndrome. 

  • Because babies with Down syndrome are often sleepy and placid, the mother may need to interest her baby through frequent breastfeedings throughout the day, waking the baby fully before breastfeeding, or providing him with extra touch and stimulation to keep him alert.
  • The baby’s positioning at the mother’s breast is particularly important for a child with Down syndrome. The mother should try to keep her baby's body elevated near her breasts with his ear, shoulder and hip in a straight line, using extra pillows for support. See LaLeche League International’s FAQ How Do I Position My Baby to Breastfeed? for more information.
  • If gulping and choking are problems, positioning the baby so that his neck and throat are slightly higher than the mother’s nipple may help.
  • If poor muscle tone makes it difficult for the baby to latch on well, LaLeche League suggests supporting the baby's chin and jaw while nursing, using the "Dancer Hand Position." To do this, the mother cups her breast with her thumb above her areola, her index finger pointing outward, and the other three fingers below the areola. She should use her index finger to support the baby's jaw while nursing. As breastfeeding enhances her baby's muscle tone, he will be able to support himself.


Modified from:

Copyright 2014 Interdisciplinary Human Development Institute, University of Kentucky. Brighter Tomorrows is part of the National Center for Prenatal and Postnatal Down Syndrome Resources. Individuals are hereby granted permission, without fees or further requests, to make photocopies of documents on this website for noncommercial use as long as this copyright statement is included.