Courtesy: Titi Emmanuel, Nutritionist

Down syndrome is a condition in which a person is born with an extra chromosome, with Down syndrome; the extra chromosome causes delays in the way a child develops, mentally and physically; the growth rate of children with Down syndrome is slower. Down syndrome is a genetic disorder, the cause of which is not yet known.

The developmental challenges posed by Down syndrome could also affect the nutritional intake of children if not properly monitored, optimal nutrition should be ensured in children with Down syndrome. A healthy and balanced diet is essential to manage developmental disorder with DS children.

  • What does a healthy/balance diet comprise of?

A healthy and balanced diet is mainly made up of fruit and vegetables (eating a rainbow), good proteins and slow releasing carbohydrates. Dairy products and oils should be consumed minimally, and consumption of sugary and fatty foods should be limited.

  • Why is a healthy/balanced diet important for children with Down syndrome?

People with Down syndrome have a slower metabolism than people without Down syndrome, which means they burn the calories they eat 10-15% slower and will burn fewer calories during exercise. This means that it can be easier for people with Down syndrome to gain weight, making them more susceptible to the long term health conditions associated with being overweight or obese. The caloric needs are 10-15% lower than children of the same age without down syndrome due to lower metabolic rate caused by lower muscle tone and activity levels.

Although there is no special recommendations for vitamin and mineral intakes for children with Down syndrome; however, Iron, Vitamin D, Calcium, Vitamin A, Folate, Iron and Zinc required for children of the same age group should be given to them so as to prevent complications caused by micronutrients deficiency.

  • Support Feeding for Children with Down syndrome

Muscle tone and strength in the lips and mouth is affected in children with DS. Difficulty with lip closure for bottle feeding or cup drinking as child may be slow to progress to cup, difficulty with lip closure for spoon feeding.

Child may be slow to progress from breast milk /formula to baby /table foods, child may require pediatric formula to meet needs. Children with DS have poor oral strength or fatigue with chewing hence the gradual introduction of pureed diet.

Due to the slower growth and development rate in children with DS, it is advisable to give children fluid meal when introducing complementary foods to them as they may not develop teeth for chewing on time. Gradually introduce fluids to them, then semi fluids. Food should be nutrient dense, adequate, safe and stable.

It can be difficult to eat enough fruit and vegetables everyday unless you make it a fun game and eat a rainbow! Make a rainbow with a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, place one fruit/vegetable from each colour of a rainbow and eat along with them.

Be enthusiastic and positive when trying to give a child vitamin/mineral supplement. Crush the supplement and mix into a food or drink, create a sticker chart or other reward-based motivation. Allow the child enough time to eat, but don’t let mealtimes drag on indefinitely and don’t let the child fill up on food between meals

When a new food is introduced, encourage a test bite; ever require that the child eat all of the familiar food. Offer new foods frequently, along with old favorites, even if they have been refused at other meals.

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