Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Healthy Start: Good Nutrition for Babies with Special Needs. (Infant Health & Development)

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Healthy Start: Good Nutrition for Babies with Special Needs. (Infant Health & Development)

Article excerpt

As a pediatrician, I know first hand how concerned parents can be about their child's health. Parents of infants with certain medical conditions should stay attuned to their child's growth patterns and physical development, as these are the prime indicators of disease-related health problems during infancy.

The most important step any parent can make in encouraging proper development is to visit a pediatrician to gauge a child's health and development. This is done largely through measurements of the child's growth curve, a ratio of weight gain to length (height). Head circumference measurements are also important to track in the first three years of life. Infants with special conditions may have growth curves that vary from the norm. Consult a pediatrician to determine if your baby is growing normally, as variations do occur.

Children with a flat growth curve--those who are not gaining adequate weight and are falling significantly in percentiles--have failure to thrive (FTT). Some children with developmental and genetic conditions are at risk for FTT. A pediatrician or a dietitian who is well acquainted with infants with special needs may be able to suggest ways to make sure the baby is receiving proper calories and nutrients.

Feeding your child with special needs

Parents should discuss any feeding problems with their pediatrician to determine if there are community resources to help manage feeding and nutrition. These resources are usually found through a local children's hospital, where they are familiar with special health needs.

While it is important for a baby to gain weight, it is equally important to maintain a healthy and varied diet with all of the right nutrients. Breastfeeding is the most perfect source of nutrition for all babies, especially those with special needs. Breast milk provides antibodies to fight disease and infection, and strengthens the bond between mother and child. Breastfeeding is important for children with neurological disorders and babies born with Down syndrome, cleft lip or palate, cardiac problems and cystic fibrosis. There are a few rare metabolic diseases (galactosemia is one) where infants cannot receive breast milk. Babies with these diseases cannot break down certain components in the breast milk and can become ill. For infants who have trouble gaining weight, a pediatrician or pediatric dietitian might recommend using fortifiers that can be added to the breast milk to ensure adequate weight gain.

A mother may have difficulties breastfeeding her baby with special needs. However, most of the time, counseling by a certified lactation consultant and some patience will achieve the goal. Mothers can also benefit from some of the products available for expressing and feeding breast milk. Some problems often associated with breastfeeding include:

* Difficulty with swallowing, associated with such neurological disorders as cerebral palsy, trauma to the mouth, congenital abnormalities, or disorders with motility or movement of the upper gastrointestinal tract.

* A mother may need to offer extra kinds of physical support while nursing a child with too much or too little muscle tone.

* Infants with some diseases, like cystic fibrosis or phenylketonuria (PKU), may require special formula supplements.

With some types of problems, consultation with a certified lactation consultant, pediatric occupational therapist, pediatric physical therapist and pediatric specialist related to the child's disease, may all be indicated to support the needs of baby. …

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