Babies born with Down syndrome (DS or DNS), also known as trisomy 21, are a challenge as well as rewarding for loving and caring parents. About 700 babies are born each year in the USA with this genetic disorder caused by the presence of all or part of a third copy of chromosome 21. As a parent, you will research this until you know as much as or more than doctors. I know—I did that with my first and only child—a daughter, who was born congenitally deaf with progressive blindness and mentally challenged.
These are sensitive things to discuss with a heart-broken parent and even more so for the baby’s mother. This baby will not have normal mental and physical development due to how chromosome 21 switched up the DNA. His or her muscle tone will be low and they are at higher risks for other health issues. Your baby will have little motor control, bone, ear, eyes, nose and throat problems.
This multifaceted infant will mature and grow into a beautiful loving person. Let’s try some Yoga for his or her little muscles and flexibility here. Know that most parents are genetically normal and that the extra chromosome happened by chance and is not your fault. Educate yourselves on what Down syndrome is and don’t be afraid of the unknown.
Check with your pediatrician or physical therapist before starting these exercises. Repeat the exercises for each session as your baby responds to it.
- Front Crawl Stretch—Hold your baby on your legs with baby’s head on one of your thighs. Let the positon and exercise be as lively or gentle as your baby lets you know. Hold your baby’s arms and wrists stretching up and down crossing to the opposite side hand. This stretch strengthens and develops arm muscles.
- Pedal Stretch—Hold baby’s legs under the knees curving them open slowly wider at the hips. Move legs one after the other towards the ribs then bring towards you gently then go backwards like pedaling a bicycle.
- Brain Gym Circles—Hold your baby’s right-to-left hand and leg and left-to-right hand and leg in each of your hands. Open them out somewhat and make circles both inward then outward. This is a diagonal stretch that is more involved that will tone baby’s back muscles and limb coordination challenging your coordination as well.
- Half Lotus—Hold both of your baby’s feet with him or her on their back. Move the left foot to the right hip in a half lotus position. Press the baby’s heel at the place it stops. Do the same with the right foot. See the toddler boy doing a half lotus here.
- Push and Counter-Push—Lay baby on his or her back. Press the palms of your hands gently on baby’s feet soles. Let go of your grasp and do it again. Press with more weight if baby reacts and pushes against you. Do the soles of the feet one at a time and try both together. This will aid in the baby’s kicking ability.
- Rolling Knees—Put baby on his or her back holding the bowed knees together. Move from one side to the other in a circular fashion left to right then right to left. Start with small circles and increase the diameter as your baby becomes accustomed to this motion.
- Diagonal Stretch—Place the baby on the floor on a towel being careful to keep the back of his neck and head on the floor with his spine aligned and expanded. Hold baby’s left foot and right hand bringing them together then open them. Extend the foot and hand outward diagonally. Repeat using the left hand and right foot.
- Cradling Seat Hold—In a seated position, use your strongest hand and put it under your baby’s butt making a little seat with baby facing you. With your other hand, support your baby’s neck and head. Lift baby slowly upright still supporting his neck but gradually letting go of the support you are giving your baby. This will strengthen your baby’s neck, spine, and sacrum including the muscles. Be gentle and slow decreasing your support of baby’s neck since the muscles are usually weak. Repeat a few times depending on how your baby works with you on this exercise.
Down syndrome babies are born with negligible muscle control. They will be later than non-Down syndrome babies to be able to hold their heads up, roll over, crawl, sit, and walk. They learn to handle and play with their toys, baby rattles, and other things with advancing strides in all they do but needing more time. The Yoga excises listed above will give your baby a developmental advantage showing improvements sooner than without doing them.
An informative book to read is Yoga for the Special Child by Sonia Sumar here.