A number of years ago I wrote an article titled A Simple Intervention for Vulnerable Babies for ARC of Lincoln/Lancaster County. I encouraged parents and care providers to not overlook the many benefits of breastfeeding a baby with special needs.
When new parents learn that their baby will have special needs, numerous emotions and thoughts run through their brains. Will my baby be okay? Who will help us? Where can we get the best care? Parents naturally want the best support and care to enhance their child’s health and maximize their developmental abilities.
Not so long ago, breastfeeding was only an option for healthy, “easy” babies. If a baby had specials needs, breastfeeding was considered “too challenging”. While trying to protect a family and make things easy, we actually took something valuable away from a baby and a mother. Fortunately, we now have NICUs stocked with banked human milk and staffed with lactation consultants to make sure that our most vulnerable babies get the best start.
We also have groups like Julia’s Way, a non-profit dedicated to inspiring parents, medical professionals, and the general public to reimagine what’s possible for those living with Down syndrome. Their current project focuses on inspiring and encouraging mothers of children with Down syndrome (DS) to breastfeed their babies.
While all babies benefit from the immune properties of human milk, the physical act of breastfeeding is a type of speech therapy for babies with DS. Suckling at the breast shapes the upper palate and lays the groundwork for future speech. Julia’s Way also points out the importance of breastfeeding to the bond between a mother and her baby, especially if a baby requires separations due to surgeries or hospitalizations.
Feeding a baby with DS can be a challenge, and seeking support from a board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) is especially important to address potential concerns, including low muscle tone, poor endurance, and excessive sleepiness. Many mothers find it vital to have immediate access to a high-quality breast pump to provide adequate milk for their baby. Support, encouragement and technical guidance with milk supply, positioning, feeding techniques and feeding devices are all crucial.
If you know that your infant will be born with a special need, or you are assisting the parents of a newborn, don’t overlook the value of providing the best nutrition possible. In today’s age of sophisticated, high cost medical interventions, we tend to ignore anything low tech and low cost. Helping a mother provide breastmilk for her baby often enables her to participate very actively in the care of her baby in a way that no one else can. Every baby deserves the best that life can offer. Breastmilk is an intervention that may appear subtle, yet may have positive, long lasting results, especially for vulnerable babies.
All moms find their breastfeeding journey easier when they feel accepted and supported, no matter what issues they may face. Breastfeeding a full term, healthy baby can be challenging. Breastfeeding a baby that needs extra support may seem overwhelming at times. Thanks to Julia Grace, a sweet little girl born in 2016 to parents who decided to reimagine life with Down syndrome, breastfeeding a baby with DS just got a bit easier for all mothers. One of the things Julia Grace’s parents wanted most was for her to have access to great nutrition from the start.
Visit Julia’s Way to learn more, and see beautiful photos of mothers nursing their babies (who just happen to have Down syndrome). I promise, you will be inspired, enlightened and charmed.
For additional information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.juliasway.org.
Healthy Families America – Creating a Village of Support
Know a mom (or dad) who could use a bit of extra loving care as a parent? Let them know about Healthy Families America, a program of the Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department. Healthy Families’ outreach workers and public health nurses love helping Lincoln families nurture their children. For more information, visit Community Health Services or call 402-441-8065.