Babies with Down syndrome generally exhibit one or more of several physical characteristics, including flat noses, small ears, low muscle tone, unusually flexible joints, and diagonally slanted eyes. Some infants may have additional physical abnormalities, such as heart or other organ disorders. Other issues and complications can arise as children grow, but these problems are often not known or understood until later.
Many babies with Down syndrome are identified before birth through ultrasound and amniocentesis. Abnormalities in an infant's head or facial development may be noticed, or an amniocentesis may reveal an extra chromosome. It is often recommended that women over 35 have genetic testing performed.
The most common and noticeable characteristics of babies with Down syndrome is the flattened appearance of their faces and nasal area. Their noses are generally small, as are their mouths, and their tongues are often unusually large by comparison. The eyes may have a more almond or squinted appearance when compared to other infants.
Babies with Down syndrome may also lack muscle tone. This can be apparent almost immediately during initial newborn testing. These infants may have trouble moving or raising their heads, and the arms and legs may appear atrophied, slack, or weak. Many Down syndrome infants also have a weak suckling reflex, and due to the shape of their mouths, nursing or bottle feeding may be more difficult. Studies have shown that breastfeeding is beneficial for babies with Down syndrome because the suckling motion, once learned, helps strengthen the jaw muscles.
Some infants have more pronounced characteristics of Down syndrome than others. Physical clues are generally present at birth, but additional testing is generally needed to confirm a diagnosis. Some infants are born with additional internal abnormalities as well, so a quick diagnosis is important so that any treatments can be begun as soon as possible.
There are certain other traits children with Down syndrome may possess, but these are often not discovered until later on in their development. For instance, many down syndrome children have mild to severe mental retardation. Early intervention and treatment with a counselor and special education teachers is often crucial to ensure each child develops to his or her full potential.