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Breast feeding is the best start for the future development of a baby with DS, and within a few hours of birth, if possible. There was once a widespread belief that DS babies could not be breast-fed. It is true that some new-born babies with DS have more difficulty sucking and suck more slowly because of their low muscle tone, but that is no reason to deny them the most natural form of obtaining nourishment. It may not appear important, but what does breast feeding mean for the baby and mother?

For one thing, mother’s milk contains antibodies against bacteria and viruses, which protect the child from infection. Because of basic changes, DS children have inadequately developed enzymatic, metabolic and immunological mechanisms, the latter above all. That is why mother’s milk is so important. It contains, in a balanced form, all the necessary nutrients, namely, proteins, sugars, fats, minerals and vitamins. The additional requirement for breast-fed babies is Vitamin D, supplemented by Vitamin C at 6 months of age and, in some cases, iron.

Another reason for breast-feeding is promoting bonding between the baby and the mother. In addition, breast feeding develops and firms up the facial muscles and the oral passages, which in turn promote proper swallowing and speech development. It is recommended that those children who really cannot be breast-fed should receive milk for allergic children (hypoallergenic or soya). Most DS children who have been given preparations based on cow’s milk develop an allergy to proteins derived from cow’s milk associated with various disorders of the digestive tract, and, in some cases, skin symptoms. This can also result in over production of mucous in the respiratory tract and greater risk of respiratory infections. Like other children, those with DS start to receive solid food when they are about six months old (fruit, later vegetable soups). It is recommended to give this food on a spoon, to help the child to learn to swallow. After the ninth month of life, it is not recommended to puree food for the baby.

By the age of one the child’s should contain all the main foods. Proteins, sugars, fats, minerals, trace elements and vitamins are provided by a suitable diet comprising vegetables, fruits, whole-wheat bread, meat, rolled oats, rice, potatoes, pasta and suitable milk.

Children with DS have a tendency to obesity because their metabolic rate is about 25% slower than other children. So it is not a good idea to teach them from an early age that they can get just what they feel like from their parents, grandmother or aunties. Snacks and sweet pastries can be replaced by other treats, such as fruit, vegetables or raisins. It will definitely be a tougher job to restrict the diet of a child who has already acquired a taste for these things, and hence has a tendency to obesity, than to encourage a specific diet from the very outset.