Do you have a baby brother or sister with Down Syndrome — or do you know someone who does? If so, learning about this condition can help you understand more about that person and their differences — and this might make it easier for you to make friends with them and get to know them better.

What is Down Syndrome and What Causes It?

To start with, every person on the planet has 23 pairs of chromosomes – half of them from your mother and half of them from your father.  These chromosomes come together when your mom gets pregnant with you and it is these chromosomes that decide the color of your hair and your eyes and all the other things that make you unique and special.

However, sometimes there can be problems with the chromosomes. In the case of babies with Down Syndrome, there is extra material on Chromosome 21. This might not sound like a big deal, but it is this extra material that causes all the challenges those with Down Syndrome face. This is why Downs is called a “chromosomal disorder”. It is the most common one in the United States and around 1 out of every 700 babies will be born with it.

Down Syndrome is a lifelong condition and there is no cure for it. However, with treatment, most kids with Downs can grow up to lead full and happy lives.

Who is at Risk for Down Syndrome?

Any baby can be born with this condition. However, there are some babies who are at higher risk, including babies:

  • Born to a mother who is 35 or older
  • Born into a family where there are other children with Downs syndrome

How Do You Know if a Baby Has Down Syndrome?

Down Syndrome can often be diagnosed based on the baby’s physical appearance, though doctors can also do actually genetic testing to see if a baby has an abnormal Chromosome 21. While not all babies will have every symptom, typical signs of Down Syndrome include:

  • Slanting, almond-shaped eyes
  • A small head with a short neck
  • Facial features like the nose that appear to be flatter than normal
  • A large tongue that can sometimes stick out of the mouth
  • Small ears
  • Small, wide hands and feet with short fingers and toes
  • Poor muscle strength
  • Developmental delays

In regards to size, Down Syndrome babies tend to be born with average weights and lengths. However, they will grow more slowly than other children and as adults, they will usually be shorter and also have a tendency to be overweight.

How Do You Care for a Baby that Has Down Syndrome?

First, it is important to note that for the most part, Down Syndrome babies have the same needs as any other baby: they will need to be dressed, bathed, fed, played with, cuddled, talk to and loved and it is very important that they get this when they are young — just like it is with any other child!

However, there are some things which parents raising a Down Syndrome baby have to think about, including:

  • Developmental delays. A baby with Down Syndrome will learn to sit up, roll over, crawl, walk and speak just like any other baby. However, it will take them a lot longer to do this – sometimes up to twice as long as children who do not have this condition.  This is why babies with Down Syndrome will need to get treatment in physical, occupational and speech therapy.  These therapies down exercises and activities with the baby which will help them strengthen their muscles, reach their milestones and learn to be as independent as possible.
  • Sleep apnea. Sleeping can be difficult with Down Syndrome. Because their tongue is larger than normal and because they have weak muscles, when they sleep, their tongue can sometimes slip backwards in their mouths and block of their airway in the throats.  This is usually not an issue for younger babies, but for older babies and toddlers, it can be a problem.  It is recommended that every child with Down Syndrome do a sleep study by the age of 4 to see if this is a problem.
  • Lots of visits to the doctor. Babies with Down Syndrome usually have to go to the doctor a lot more than other babies.  This is because they often have other conditions such as problems with their heart, vision and hearing and digestion. They tend to have sinus and ear infections more often as well.  Sometimes they will require surgery to fix any heart defects that they were born with.  And because their immune system tends to be weakers, these babies are more likely to catch colds and other infections as well.

This might sound like a lot to think about. But remember, the baby’s basic needs are the same: to be warm, fed, clean and given lots of attention!  While Down Syndrome can make life more challenging, babies with this condition can grow up to do well in school, get a job and sometimes even live on their own.  So if your baby brother or sister has this condition or you know someone who does, take the time to get to know them and make friends.  They are very special people and the effort you make will be worth it!