Babies who are born with Down's syndrome often have many health problems in addition to cognitive disabilities. For example, they may have vision problems, heart defects, and dental issues. While not every Down's baby will have these specific issues, one problem that seems universal in these children is hypotonia. Here is what parents should know about this common condition.
What Is Hypotonia?
In layman's terms, hypotonia is poor muscle tone. The child's muscles are floppier and too relaxed. Muscles are used by every system in the human body, from moving food through the digestive tract to bladder control to eating, walking, hearing, and talking. Hypotonia is one of the primary causes of developmental delays in the child with Down's syndrome.
How Does Hypotonia Present?
The first thing most parents of a Down's syndrome baby will typically notice is their child struggles with feeding. A newborn baby experiences this difficulty because the muscles required to suckle, the cheeks, mouth, and lips, are lax. The rooting and sucking reflex are also weaker. Breastfeeding can be difficult as the baby may not be able to latch on. Swallowing can also be problematic as this is also controlled by muscles.
As the newborn grows, more physical developmental delays will become obvious. The baby takes longer to learn how to roll over, longer to sit up, longer to creep and crawl, longer to pull themselves up, and longer to walk. These milestones and others will all come later in the Down's baby when compared to other children without this genetic anomaly.
How Is Hypotonia Treated?
There is no cure for hypotonia, and it isn't a condition they will grow out of. Therefore, at each developmental stage, their limitations must be addressed and support must be provided to help manage their symptoms.
Another condition that often presents with hypotonia is ligament laxity. This means their joints can hyperextend as they have a greater range of motion. The combination of poor muscle tone and the lax ligaments means it easier to dislocate a knee or hip. The solution to this is regular and extensive pediatric physical therapy through childhood.
How Does Pediatric Physical Therapy Help The Down's Child?
The goal of physical therapy is to strengthen and support the muscles. When the muscles are strengthened, they can also provide more support for the surrounding ligaments. Babies with Down's syndrome often begin physical therapy when they are just a few weeks old. Parents are instructed on how to deal with the current issues they are experiencing as well as given exercises to do with the baby. As the child grows, physical therapy will involve exercise as well as fun tasks that encourage and develop their abilities further. These activities will boost self-confidence as well as counteract obesity and heart issues from worsening.
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