“Can I use BLW (Baby-Led Weaning) with my baby with Down syndrome?” This is a question we get a lot and our short answer is YES! Many babies with Down syndrome can use BLW or a modified version of BLW to transition to solids. If you’re new to Feeders and Growers and you want more details on why we think BLW is an excellent approach for infants with unique needs or who are developing along their own timeline, check out this post first then come on back here! We've written these posts specifically for a collaboration with the awesome ladies of Able Appetites (IG: @ableappetites) so while we kept it a bit more general in our last post (focusing on kids with developmental differences and unique needs) in this post were specifically focusing on babies with Down syndrome.
First, we just want to acknowledge that kids are incredibly unique! We are going to make some generalizations in this post which are based on research regarding common developmental progression and learning styles experienced by people with Down syndrome but need to acknowledge that many children will not follow these patterns or may have different strengths and that’s OK! Always look to your child for information about what they specifically need to be successful.
Common Strengths and Learning Styles of babies with Trisomy 21 that can be used with Baby-Led Weaning (BLW)
Tongue protrusion- Many babies with Down syndrome have a strong tongue protrusion pattern, which means they stick out their tongue. This is an EXCELLENT skill to have when learning to eat because it allows your baby to feel and taste food in their mouth then safely spit it back out! Don’t discourage this- let your baby use this talent to explore food safely at first. As your baby builds skill and becomes more coordinated at moving food around, he or she should naturally start to move their tongue to the side of their mouth to chew.
Visual learning- compared to auditory learning, the visual system can be a more powerful way for children with Down syndrome to learn. Eat with your child and serve the same foods to yourself as your infant in order to use visual modeling and engage your child’s visual system. Show her how it’s done! Model picking up food, bringing it to your mouth, and chewing the food so your baby can see exactly what she’s supposed to do. Slow it down and move deliberately so it’s clear what you are doing so your baby can follow your lead.
Social development- Kiddos with Down Syndrome often have a relative strength in social emotional development and engagement. We strongly encourage parents to eat with your child as we noted above but also interact! Socialize! Sometimes us parents focus so intently on getting our child to eat or on how much he or she is eating, we forget to socialize with him or her. Talk to him, encouraged him when he tries to pick up food, smile and nod when he’s trying to figure it all out. Praise her efforts to pick up food, get it to her mouth, and/or to explore it. Keep it fun and positive. When you eat together and socialize, the joy your baby feels from interacting with you brings enjoyment to the meal and to exploring new foods.
Capacity to learn- Remember kids with Down syndrome have a proven ability to learn with practice and exposure. Practice the skills your child will need to chew (jaw movement, tongue movement to the side molars, and sensory awareness in the mouth- all are being “practiced” when you let your baby mouth and munch on real food!) and be consistent. Introduce a wide variety of flavors and textures and keep reintroducing! Do not give up if your baby isn’t swallowing food or if your baby isn’t sure about picking up the food at first. As we said above- show him, help him, and give many chances to try again. Try to avoid the trap of serving only the foods your baby is successful in eating. Those more challenging foods take time and lots of practice to develop the skills to eat. Your goal is to keep helping your baby learn to taste (by showing him how it’s done and by giving lots of low pressure opportunities to try himself when slightly hungry- not starving) and eventually eat all sorts of different foods over time!
Hopefully by now we have convinced you to consider using this approach with your little one. If so, there will probably be some areas where you need to make modifications to support your baby and increase his/her likelihood for success. We will have another post coming out soon for more details on what that might look like!
We recommend if you have any concerns or hesitations that you work with a feeding specialist who can tailor recommendations to the needs of your baby. Subscribe to our emails to make sure you don’t miss our posts and to hear about our latest classes for parents of kiddos w special needs which we’re planning on launching by Fall 2020!