Breast feeding babies with Down syndrome

Contrary to the misleading information families sometimes receive, a diagnosis of Down syndrome is not a reason to give up the idea of breastfeeding your baby.

Many babies with Down syndrome experience no difficulty in establishing breastfeeding. But you may have to be persistent, which can be difficult at a time when you may be dealing with an array of other concerns and emotions.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association booklet 'Breastfeeding your baby with Down syndrome' is given to new parents as part of the New Parent Information  Pack. To contact Down Syndrome Victoria and request a pack please phone our Family support team on 1300 658 873 or email.

Perseverance with breastfeeding your baby with Down syndrome

There are several good reasons to persevere with breastfeeding your baby, even if it is not all smooth sailing. These include:

  • Breastfeeding your baby encourages the bonding process between mother and baby. 
  • Breastfeeding helps stimulate and develop the muscles around and in the mouth. These muscles are extremely important for later feeding skills and for speech development.
  • Breastfeeding helps with lip closure and can discourage tongue thrusting as the child gets older. It also contributes to jaw stability. 
  • Infants with Down syndrome are often more susceptible to infection than other babies, and breast milk helps to provide important disease immunity. The antibodies in breast milk offer good protection against respiratory and other infections. 
  • There is some evidence that babies who are breastfed are less susceptible to coeliac disease (gluten intolerance) which is more prevalent in people with Down syndrome than the general population.

Practical information and advice

Other mothers who have experienced your situation are a great support. We can put you in contact with other mothers who can offer advice and encouragement. Contact our Family Support Coordinator Sue Blandford on 1300 658 873 or email.

Find a Lactation consultant close to you - Australian Lactation Consultants Association

ABA has some designated counsellors who have experience of breastfeeding a baby with Down syndrome. You can call ABA on 1800 6862 686 or speak to an Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) Breastfeeding Counsellor.

Find a Maternal and Child Health Nurse close to you Maternal and Child Health Centre Directory

The Maternal and Child Health Advisory Line
13 22 29 (local call) 24 hours, 7 days

Frequently asked questions

Is my baby too sleepy?
It is very common for babies with Down syndrome to be sleepy initially and you may need to make some effort to rouse your baby and to keep him or her awake during feeding. You may find that you need to establish a regular feeding schedule rather than waiting for your baby to wake to be fed. Rest assured that this stage will pass after a few weeks.

Is my baby strong enough to breastfeed?
Babies with Down syndrome, and particularly those with heart conditions, may tire easily and find it difficult to muster the energy for a lengthy feed. You may need to feed more frequently or use top-up feeding strategies (see below) in the initial stages.

Is breastfeeding too difficult for my baby?
Babies with Down syndrome do often take longer to establish breastfeeding than other babies. This may be due to lack of energy or it may be that reduced muscle tone means that your baby may have trouble grasping the nipple and attaching correctly. Some babies have trouble coordinating sucking, swallowing and breathing and may gulp and choke as they feed. They may get less milk for their effort and get tired easily. Both energy levels and muscle tone gradually improve and as your baby grows they will become stronger, learn control of those muscles and be more able to feed effectively.

Is my baby gaining enough weight?
Newborns with Down syndrome may lose more than 10% of their birth weight and take up to 4 weeks to regain it. In order not to compromise your baby's weight gain, you may initially need to feed more frequently or to top-up breastfeeds using expressed breast milk given by dropper, spoon bottle (possibly with a special teat). Try to avoid the use of a Nasal Gastric Tube (NGTs) if possible as they can interfere with learning to breastfeed and long term use may lead to speech difficulties later in life (see more about this here).

Should my baby be measured on regular Maternal Child Health Growth Charts?
The simple answer here is No. Babies with Down syndrome are characteristically smaller than the general population. See more about why we should use specific charts here.
Royal children's Hospital Melbourne

Is support available?
In the early days of establishing breastfeeding, you and your baby are likely to need some extra help, so it is important that you access good and encouraging support to help you stay calm and patient while your baby learns.