What Everyone Can Learn From 10 "Breastfeeding Champions" With Down Syndrome
After Nicole Starr's best friend gave birth to a beautiful baby boy with Down syndrome, this talented photographer's journey of advocacy began. Nicole saw baby Zack's family fight to prove that Down syndrome is just two words that don't define their child. She began connecting with other families in her local Down syndrome community to bring their stories to life with stunning photos that capture each child's love and unique personality.
Ella Gray Cullen, the founder of Julia's Way, was familiar with Nicole's work and reached out about collaborating on a special project. According to their website, Julia's Way is "dedicated to inspiring parents, medical professionals, and the general public to reimagine what's possible for those living with Down syndrome through education, advocacy, and awareness."
The pair gathered 10 moms and their beautiful babies to hopefully change the dialogue surrounding breastfeeding babies with Down syndrome. "Did you know that many families who have a child with Down syndrome are advised not to bother breastfeeding their little one?" Nicole wrote on Facebook. "Many medical professionals tell the families that it's impossible due to their low muscle tone and other complications associated with Down syndrome."
Yet these mamas persevered and their babies are "breastfeeding champions" who are "rocking life with that extra chromosome." On the day of the shoot, Julia Grace, Emily, Mae, Oliver, Lewis, Harper, Rian, Cate, Rory, and Cayden all gathered on the beach with their moms, but Nicole wanted to ensure that this photo session stood out.
"This is not *just* another breastfeeding photo shoot. All of these babies and toddlers happen to have Down syndrome. They have had heart surgery, cancer, and all sorts of other complications associated with that extra chromosome. But here they are, happy and thriving," she wrote. "These mamas and babies are warriors, and now they want to help others reimagine life with Down syndrome."
During the misty oceanfront photos, three of the moms learned that their babies celebrated their first birthdays three days in a row and also are all "little heart warriors" who and survived major heart surgeries this year. "It was amazing to listen to these moms share their stories about their babies' medical journeys, health and developmental complications, and huge victories in their first few months or years of life," Nicole told POPSUGAR.
But it wasn't just this small group of parents who were able to bond over their common experiences. "So many families are commenting with stories about nursing their little one with Down syndrome, and their experience either being encouraged or discouraged to breastfeed their baby because of their Down syndrome diagnosis," Nicole said. "We are grateful and humbled by all of this support and really hope that we can continue to advocate for these little ones with Down syndrome."