Nutrition Tips for Children with Down Syndrome

April 10, 2020
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Receiving any kind of medical diagnosis for a child can be devastating. At the end of the day, no matter your life’s circumstances, you want the best for them. So, after the initial shock, you start looking for information. What does it all mean? How will it impact your child’s life? What can you do to make everything better? When it comes to Down syndrome, your child has a good chance of living a happy life — yet you need to be mindful about their nutrition to prevent common complications, such as diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, constipation, and obesity.

What is Down syndrome?

Babies are typically born with 46 chromosomes. Those born with Down syndrome have an extra copy of one of the chromosomes — chromosome 21. This affects how the baby’s brain and body develop, often causing cognitive as well as physical challenges.

How the condition affects children varies from person to person. Generally, they have a lower IQ range — although this may range from mild to severe. In addition, some individuals with Down syndrome lead a relatively healthy life, while others experience chronic health problems.

How Nutrition Affects Children With Down Syndrome

People with Down syndrome are also more likely to be obese than other members of the population. This is because they burn fewer calories than individuals without the condition. They are also more likely to develop hypothyroidism, which causes weight gain. And, with obesity, comes a long range of diet-related complications. Therefore, in order to ensure optimal health for your child, it’s essential to be mindful of nutrition choices.

5 Nutrition Tips for Children With Down Syndrome

1. Keep Your Child Hydrated

Children with Down syndrome are prone to constipation. If your child is not hydrating enough, their large intestine will soak all water from food as it’s being digested. This makes it more difficult for their stools to pass through. The recommended daily intake of water for children varies depending on their age. Up to eight years of age, they should be drinking one liter of water. That amount increases to 1.5 liters up to 12 years of age, and up to two liters when they’re teenagers. However, they should consume more water if they are exercising or if the weather is hot.

In addition to drinking water, children can stay hydrated by consuming fruits — especially those with high water content, such as watermelon, pineapple, oranges, and berries. Fruit can also pose as a healthy alternative to snacking.

2. Eat More Fiber

Eating more fiber will also decrease the risk of constipation. However, it’s crucial to pay close attention to how much fiber your child is eating, since excessive amounts can lead to diarrhea. Generally, this should be about 14 grams for every 1,000 calories they eat. Foods with fiber include apples, berries, avocados, lentils, bananas, quinoa, oats, popcorn, and sweet potatoes, to name a few.

Be mindful of signs that your child is consuming too much fiber — such as abdominal pain soon after meals, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and mineral deficiencies. If you notice any of these changes, talk with your child’s pediatrician about how to best optimize their diet.

3. Avoid Sugary Drinks

Sodas, sports drinks, chocolate milk, and fruit juice have exorbitant amounts of sugar — which makes it easier to gain weight and makes your child more prone to developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Specifically in children, the risk of becoming obese increases by 60% with every sugary beverage consumed daily.

It’s important to be mindful of how much sugar your child is drinking since beverages are the biggest source of added sugars in children’s diets. For example, one cup of fruit juice contains 23 grams of sugar. This is almost the daily recommended intake for an adult woman (with the daily recommended intake for adult men being 37.5 grams). Instead, opt for sparkling water, fruit-infused water, coconut water, and homemade smoothies.

4. Avoid Gluten

Children with Down syndrome are more likely to develop celiac disease — an intolerance to gluten that causes the immune system to attack the small intestine. As a result, the intestine’s inner lining becomes inflamed. This leads to malabsorption of nutrients, bloating, fatigue, and diarrhea.

A gluten-free diet can be varied and fulfilling. It includes fruits, vegetables, eggs, quinoa, wild rice, beans, legumes, fish, poultry, and whole grains, to name a few. Become acquainted with food staples your child can eat so that making recipes with them becomes second nature.

5. Be Encouraging

Children with Down syndrome often have eating and drinking difficulties due to a low muscle tone — which can also affect their face. Many of them also have a smaller mouth, larger tongue, or a higher palate. All of these conditions can make coordinating spoon to mouth movements frustrating. Set aside time for your entire family to sit together with your child so that they can look at everyone and emulate them at his or her own pace. You may have to guide their hands for a while.

Something else to keep in mind is that as they learn how to eat independently, they will spill liquids more often due to their lack of coordination. To make the process easier for them, provide drinks in cups with lids at first, then have them sit upright as they drink beverages with a thicker consistency, such as smoothies or milkshakes. Eventually, they will overcome their eating difficulties and will be able to enjoy meals comfortably.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids are here to help.

Our home care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent caregivers to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering Pediatric Home Health Care Services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.