Some of you might be thinking that is not such a big deal. At 17 months old most kids would already have the action of 'spoon to mouth' perfected by now. For Felix, and other little ones with Down Syndrome, it takes a little bit longer to get the hang of things sometimes. Fine motor skills take a lot of practice and a lot of patience (both for the child and us as parents).
We're so proud of the progress Felix has made with his eating.
When he was first born, Felix had to be tube fed for a couple of days. Not only was he born a month early, but he had the added difficulty of being born with hypotonia (poor muscle tone) which is almost always seen in babies with Down Syndrome. This meant that feeding was exhausting for him and sometimes he was too tired to even try. Hypotonia, (sometimes paired with other health issues, such as heart problems) can make establishing breastfeeding incredibly hard work. With perserverance breastfeeding can be successful with babies with Down Syndrome; but in cases where the baby is particularly unwell it may be difficult or not possible at all. I know one incredible woman who expressed milk for her very sick baby for 6 whole months because she wanted him to have all the antibodies he needed to boost his immune system for the surgeries he required. I admire her dedication to her beautiful little boy!
I must add that babies with Down Syndrome, like other babies, will thrive if they are bottle fed. Women should not be made to feel guilty if they are unable to breastfeed, or if they choose not to. A happy Mum means a happy baby!
Despite his hypotonia, Felix was a very healthy newborn. After three days of persisting, he was breastfeeding beautifully and by day four we were able to take him home. I'm thankful that I had the experience of feeding seven other babies as it took some skill for he and I to work it out! It hasn't been a smooth road breastfeeding Felix as he has more of a 'chewing style' than a sucking one; but eight teeth later and he still has a couple of feeds a day and my nipples haven't fallen off yet!
From the time Felix started eating solid food at four months old (as recommended by his Paediatrician because of his low weight), we introduced new tastes to him all the time. He was only eating a little bit of rice cereal initially, but if we were eating a curry or a roast dinner, we would dip our finger in some sauce and let him have a taste of that as well. Children with Down Syndrome sometimes find new tastes/textures a little bit difficult to manage. If they are only given one flavour or texture of food, they may become creatures of habit and refuse to try anything else. The earlier new things are introduced, the better. The food has to be an age appropriate texture, of course. Children with Down Syndrome may struggle with big lumps or things that are too starchy (ie. Bread). Felix was eating blended food for a lot longer than our other children, but we gave him a variety of different flavours to encourage him to try new things. He now eats anything! He likes blue cheese, chilli, pate and tofu, just to name a few of his unusual tastes!
Felix was a perfect age this past Summer (15-17 months) to have fun with finger food. There are always so many different kinds of fruit available in Summer that are perfect for little hands to pick up. With the weather being so hot we were able to strip Felix down to a nappy and let him go for it without having to worry about his clothes getting covered in juice. Fruit such as watermelon, bananas and peeled and cut up stone fruit (nectarines and peaches etc) were perfect for him. Watermelon particularly, is easy to chew and doesn't require a lot of effort to eat. It was great to watch his coordination develop and how excited he was that he could regulate what went into his mouth and when.
Over the last couple of months, Felix has honed his fine motor skills to the point where he can now pick up sultanas one by one. This took a little bit of time and effort to perfect (and many sultanas all over the floor), but now he can do it easily. He also notices if he has a bit of food on his lip and will try to push it into his mouth; and if he drops some food into his lap he will try, often successfully, to retrieve it. We couldn't be more proud of our little man!