Feeding practices and eating behaviours in Down syndrome: Perspectives from healthcare professionals
Approximately 740 babies with Down Syndrome (DS) are born in England and Wales every year, and this birth rate has remained relatively stable since 1989 (Morris & Alberman, 2009). A recent audit in England shows that the birth rate is likely to remain stable despite expansions in non-invasive prenatal testing (Hill et al. 2017). Therefore support for families with babies and infants with DS is likely to remain an important issue for healthcare providers.
Infant feeding problems are common in DS, including difficulties in breastfeeding and introducing solid food (Cartwright & Boath, 2018; Faulks et al., 2008; Lewis & Kritzinger, 2004). The developmental course of these difficulties are unclear. Existing research suggests that parents may use more restrictive feeding practices with children with DS, which has the potential to lead to negative eating behaviours and increased BMI, but this evidence base is limited (O’Neill et al., 2005).
To address gaps in the evidence base, we have conducted a study to investigate the relationships between feeding problems and eating behaviours of children with DS aged 6 months to 5 years, through parental questionnaires, parental interviews and naturalistic mealtime observations. Preliminary analyses indicate that parents’ expectations of feeding do not correspond to their subsequent experiences, and they engage in help-seeking behaviours, e.g. seeking support from health visitors, midwives and speech and language therapists on breastfeeding and introduction of solids. This mirrors previous research, which has found that parents may lack support with breastfeeding difficulties (Cartwright & Boath, 2018). An understanding of the perceptions and experiences of health professionals would help to gain a comprehensive understanding of feeding issues and how to address these for children with DS.
Aims and objectives
We aim to explore the perceptions and experiences of healthcare professionals who support families of children with DS with feeding and eating issues. We will do this by:
- Conducting interviews with healthcare professionals commonly involved with families of children with DS with feeding and eating issues, including health visitors, midwives and speech and language therapists
- Exploring current service provision for families of children with DS with feeding and eating issues
- Exploring challenges in providing this support, and potential areas of improvement.
- We will publish the results of the study in a high impact peer-reviewed journal
- The results of this research will contribute to a larger grant application in early 2019
- We will disseminate our results to the Down syndrome Medical Interest Group, and contribute to the update of feeding information presented on their website.