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Children's Health

Parenting a Child With Down Syndrome

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If you are preparing to have a child with Down syndrome or you have an infant with Down syndrome, you are likely adjusting to a reality you had not envisioned. Discuss your fears with close friends and family. As you get to know your new baby and watch him or her grow and learn, you will find that parenting a child with Down syndrome can be as joyous, rewarding -- and of course challenging -- as parenting any child. It will help to learn all you can about your child's condition so you will have the tools you need to understand and care for a child with Down syndrome.

What is Down Syndrome?

Down syndrome is a chromosomal condition that leads to a combination of birth abnormalities. The condition normally occurs when a fertilized egg has an extra chromosome. In normal conditions, a fertilized egg has 23 pairs of chromosomes. A child with Down syndrome has an extra copy of chromosome 21 (the medical term for Down syndrome is Trisomy 21). A child with Down syndrome typically is born with mental and physical symptoms that range from mild to severe. Generally, his or her physical and cognitive development will be delayed.

Down syndrome is among the most common genetic birth abnormalities. According to the National Down Syndrome Society, 1 in 691 babies are born with Down syndrome in the United States.

Signs and Symptoms of a Child With Down Syndrome

Common physical signs of a child with Down syndrome include:

  • Upward slanting eyes.
  • A flat face.
  • Abnormally shaped ears.
  • A short neck.
  • Poor muscle tone and loose ligaments.

If doctors detect these physical traits during newborn screening, they will do a blood test to look for extra chromosomes and confirm whether or not the newborn is a child with Down syndrome.

Most people with Down syndrome have some degree of learning disability that ranges from mild to moderate. Early intervention has been shown to boost a child's potential for development.

Other Common Health Issues for a Child With Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is linked with a host of medical problems, some of which can be serious. You should make sure your child with Down syndrome gets regular medical care. The potential problems include:

  • Heart defects: About half of all babies with Down syndrome have heart problems, so a pediatric cardiologist should examine your newborn.
  • Intestinal problems.
  • Hearing or vision problems.
  • Increased risk for leukemia or thyroid problems.
  • Celiac disease.
  • Greater susceptibility to minor health problems, such as colds, ear infections, and bronchitis.
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