“Watch their head” has a whole new meaning when handling most infants with Down syndrome.
You may have noticed that your child with Down syndrome feels a bit different in your arms than a typical child. Hypotonia effects every muscle from the neck, abs, and even the mouth. It is not necessarily muscle weakness but a decrease in tone.
Tone involves tension or resistance held in a muscle at rest. This makes your child feel floppy. There are various ways to look for hypotonia. When holding the child under their armpits they will practically slip through your fingers.
Also when holding them in the palm of your hand they will lay like a wet noodle. You can pull up on their arms and look for head lag, and with hypotonia the baby will not be able to bring their head off the ground.
Simply watching them in their bassist can also give you a hint as they will lay spread eagle with arms and legs outstretched just like Noah is below.
6 Tips On How To Hold An Infant With Down Syndrome
I have handled a lot of infants in my training and hypotonia makes it a bit difficult. However it also makes for one snuggly baby. I can’t get enough of Noah cuddles. As you start your adventure with Down syndrome you will start to do several exercises to help battle hypotonia. You will hear a lot about midline, meaning that your baby can bring their arms and legs to the middle. Here are some tips we learned on handling your baby as well as positions you can use.
Swaddling your baby (like the above picture) will help them keep arms and legs midline (and sleep well). If you don’t know how to swaddle watch this awesome video by our friends over at The Fun House. You can use a large receiving blanket, or buy the handy SwaddleMe Blanket like the one we are using on Noah in the picture above. I recommend the velcro ones because as your child get older and starts to try to escape you can get them super tight and the become baby straight jackets. Noah couldn’t figure out how to escape which meant that he and mommy slept longer. (And what mommy doesn’t enjoy a little extra sleep.) :-)
2. Provide extra support to the baby’s head
Provide extra support to the head and remind people who hold your baby to do the same. I know that people always say this with a newborn, but it is even more true with a child with hypotonia due to the head lag that we talked about earlier.
3. Watch those armpits!
When holding the baby up, try to avoid holding underneath the armpits as the child will slip through and you will put extra stress on those joints. Hold around the rib cage just beneath the armpits where you can get a firm grasp (as pictured above). You also want to creep your fingers up to the back of the neck to offer head support.
4. Pay attention to the limbs.
Make sure you do not get their arms or legs caught in odd positions, as it is easy to overstretch their joints. Just be aware of where their limbs are as they can end up in some odd places without you noticing.
5. Sideline is your child’s friend.
Laying your child in a side lying position will help them bring their hands and legs midline and can help them play with toys and interact more with their environment
6. Tummy time, tummy time, tummy time!
The most important position your child should work on is tummy time. You want to do this as often as possible. They can lay flat on their belly or you can use a pillow (like a Boppy Pillow) to prop them up a bit. This position will help them build head control which is needed before moving on to the next developmental steps.
I hope these tips help you learn to hold and support your new infant with Down syndrome. Please be sure to leave a comment with any questions, and I’d be happy to try to jump in and answer them.
What challenges did you have when learning how to hold your new baby with Down syndrome. If you have other children in what ways did you find holding and supporting your child with Down syndrome different than with your children? Leave a comment and tell us about it, we’d love to hear your feedback.