Feeding and Down Syndrome 

Feeding and Down Syndrome is often an issue because children with Down syndrome often have feeding difficulties due to impairments in oral motor function.

Most children with Down syndrome have a large tongue with tongue protrusion, a small mouth and low muscle tone, predisposing them to feeding problems. In addition, these children are predisposed to cardiac, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems. 


A few reasons that may cause concern include:

  1. Difficulty sucking or latching on.
  2. Taking longer than thirty minutes to feed required amount of breast milk or formula.
  3. She spits out everything you try to spoon food.
  4.  She will not eat anything but baby food or refuses different textures.
  5.   She coughs frequently on thin liquids

If your child has Down syndrome and you feel her feeding ability and skills are impaired, it may be best to consult a feeding therapist as well as your pediatrician. A feeding therapist can give you tips and techniques to utilize when feeding your child.

Children with Down syndrome often have swallowing disorders (dysphagia). If you feel your child may have a problem swallowing, talk to your pediatrician. He may recommend a MBS (Modified Barium Swallow Study), to determine of your child has a swallowing problem. An MBS uses video x-rays to evaluate the mouth and throat structure and function during eating.

Many children with Down syndrome are underweight when they are young. Down syndrome growth charts are used and take this into account, however if your child is below the third percentile on the Down syndrome chart and/or she is not gaining weight adequately, she needs more calories and calorie boosters should be utilized. Many young children with feeding and Down syndrome issues need more calories then average because of heart or respiratory problems. Furthermore it is estimated up to 10% of children with Down syndrome also have Celiac disease. If you are feeding your child more food then you ever thought possible and she still isn’t gaining weight, speak to your doctor about having her tested for Celiac disease.

On a final note, I have had many parents of children with problems related to feeding and Down syndrome concerned about obesity. This is a very real and valid concern since these children often do gain weight rapidly, putting additional stress on the heart. During infancy and toddler hood however, if your child is having a difficult time gaining weight, your first priority should be weight gain. Once weight gain has been achieved, nutritional content of meals and snacks can be adjusted to contain lower amounts of calories and fat to prevent obesity. There is a very fine line with these children that should be continuously reassessed, however while they are very young many children suffer from failure to thrive.If you have any questions and feel your child would benefit from an in depth nutrition assessment, make an appointment with us.