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Information from Your Family Doctor

Caring for a Child with Down Syndrome


Am Fam Physician. 1999 Jan 15;59(2):395-396.

  See related article on Down syndrome.

How will I take care of my baby with Down syndrome?

Just like any other newborn, your baby will need to be fed, dressed, diapered, cuddled, held, talked to, played with and loved. However, your baby will probably have some health problems that will require some extra care.

What are the health problems that might affect my baby?

Most babies with Down syndrome don't have good muscle tone. This makes it harder for them to learn to roll over, to sit up and to walk. Physical therapy can help with these problems.

There's a chance that your baby may have some kind of heart defect—a little less than half of these babies have a heart problem. An ultrasound exam of your baby's heart will show if there's a problem. Surgery can fix the heart problems of Down syndrome.

Some babies with Down syndrome have problems swallowing, or they may have blockages in their stomach or intestines (bowels). Surgery can fix these problems. Once they are fixed, they usually cause no further harm.

Some babies have eye problems, like cataracts (cloudy lenses) or crossed eyes. Surgery can help these problems, too.

Children with Down syndrome may have colds, ear infections and sinus infections more often than other children. They are more likely to have thyroid problems, hearing loss, seizures, and bone and joint problems. It's also common for these children to be late in teething.

Will my child have learning problems?

Intelligence ranges from low normal to very retarded (slow to learn) in people with Down syndrome. If you can keep your child physically healthy, he or she will be better able to learn. At birth, it isn't possible to tell yet how smart a baby with Down syndrome will be. Many adults with Down syndrome have jobs and live independently.

What other special care will my baby need?

You may need to give your baby medicine for a heart defect or some other medical problem. Your doctor will probably want to check your baby more often to be sure that he or she is growing well and isn't developing problems from birth defects.

Your baby may need to have physical therapy every week to help with building up muscle tone and coordination. Later on, speech therapy and occupational therapy (to help with hand coordination) may be helpful for your child.

Can I breast feed my baby?

Yes, babies with Down syndrome can breast feed. Breast feeding is good for babies with Down syndrome. Your baby may be a little slow in learning how to breast feed.

You may find it helpful to talk with your doctor or a nurse, or a therapist with special training when your baby is learning to breast feed. Other mothers who have breast-fed their babies with Down syndrome can also give you helpful advice. Your doctor can help you find other mothers to talk to.

Where can I find out more about Down syndrome?

Here are some books about babies with Down syndrome:

Libby Kumin. Communication skills in children with Down syndrome: a guide for parents. Rockville, Md.: Woodbine House, 1994.

Siegfried M. Pueschel. A parent's guide to Down syndrome: toward a brighter future. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes, 1990.

Kay Stray-Gundersen, editor. Babies with Down syndrome: a new parents' guide. 2d ed. Bethesda, Md.: Woodbine House, 1995.

These locations on the World Wide Web may help you:

America Online

Personal Empowerment Network chatroom (keyword: PEN)

Private chatroom (keyword: DS Babies)

Disabilities forum, general disabilities discussion, Down Syndrome

Down Syndrome newsgroup: (other resources are linked to this Web page)

These organizations offer helpful information:

National Down Syndrome Congress: 1-800-232-6372

National Down Syndrome Society: 1-800-221-4602

National Parent to Parent Support and Information System: 1-800-651-1151

La Leche League International (for breast-feeding information and support): 1-800-525-3243 Website:

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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