The moment you find out you’re pregnant, your mind kicks into baby overdrive wondering what your new life will be like. Will she have your eyes, or his chin? Will she have all ten fingers and toes? You’re busy busy busy planning for your new arrival and suddenly, after nine expectant months, the day finally arrives! But for some mothers, this day doesn’t always go as planned. October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month and we want to make sure you exceptional new mommies understand that having a baby with Down Syndrome is oh-so special and can be filled with mountains of joy.
Down (or Down’s) Syndrome is a genetic disorder that causes intellectual and physical impairments to babies all around the world. According to the National Down Syndrome Congress, the estimated birthrate for babies with Down Syndrome born in the United States is roughly 1 in 700. About 80% of cases are born to women under the age of 35, although the risk of Down’s increases with age. The severity of this condition varies, but the most common symptoms are a flat facial profile, low muscle tone, an upward slant to the eyes, and a small nose. The risk of heart defects, respiratory infections, and hearing and vision impairments are also present, however your baby might not show all of these symptoms.
In caring for your baby, understand that you’re going to do pretty much what you would do with a normal baby. Breastfeeding, albeit a bit more difficult for a baby affected by Down’s, is perfectly A-OK. In fact, breastfeeding strengthens baby’s facial muscles and provides those powerful nutrients that only a mother can supply. According to the National Down Syndrome Society, breast milk benefits are hugely important to babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome because the antibodies in your breast milk help to protect your baby’s immune system, which can be compromised by the disorder, and can even promote essential brain development.
It is most important to know that you are not alone. If possible, find other families who can relate to you. It’s comforting to know that things will get easier and although this is not what you expected, the outcome can be just as happy and sweet as you imagined. Emily Perl Kingsley, long time writer for Sesame Street and mother of a son with Down Syndrome provides in her article, “Welcome to Holland,” an analogy relating to families who are dealing with the diagnosis of Down Syndrome. She states that although you might be expecting a trip to Italy (or a healthy, normally developed baby), you might wind up in Holland. Kingsley also says that it’s vital to explore Holland in order to understand the joys and happiness that can (and will!) occur with having a new, although unexpected, plan. And what might P&N have to say to that? Met Plezier!