How Could Breastfeeding Lead to a Baby’s Starvation?

It is every woman’s dream. After nine months of waiting, anticipating, dreaming, and expectancy, Jillian Johnson’s first baby was finally in her hands.

Her new bundle of joy, Landon, was born healthy at a little over 7 pounds. Now, on the anniversary of his 5th year of life, Jillian speaks out about his death.

The details in between–the mistakes made, the oversights, the quick and untimely death–still haunt Jillian to this day. She has sworn that her son’s death will not be in vain because the events leading up to his death could have happened to any woman’s baby. And that is why Jillian tells her son’s story.

When this story of a newborn dying flashes on my computer screen, I am immediately saddened. Yet, I’m still mesmerized by the peculiar headline, “Mom warns about breastfeeding after newborn accidentally starves.” The headline seems contrasting and I have no idea how breastfeeding can ultimately lead to a baby starving.

However, I wasn’t too far into the story when the details start to piece themselves together and the dreadful story unfolds.

Landon, Jillian’s first born baby, was born by cesarean section five years ago and found himself swaddled in his mother’s arms in a “baby friendly” hospital. On her own blog post, Jillian recounts the hospital’s policy of “baby friendly.”

A baby friendly hospital is one in which the mother and newborn’s experience is centered on breastfeeding. Jillian recounts how she read all the books on new babies and the amount of research there is about the importance and health benefits of breastfeeding over bottle formula.

Jillian wanted the best for her baby and believed this practice of breastfeeding to be the best.

In this baby friendly hospital, unless a mother has had a breast augmentation procedure, cancer, or another medical condition that prevents her from breastfeeding, mothers are not given formula. The exception is only for mothers who have a prescription from a pediatrician.

On her own blog, Jillian has posted pictures chronicling her baby’s short life. On one of the earliest pictures taken, Landon, only a few hours old, is seen sleeping comfortably. However, Jillian recounts how Landon soon “cried and cried.” Landon breastfed every 1-2 hours for up to 40 minutes the first day.

New mother Jillian was carefully monitored and recalls asking the lactation consultant why her baby was always feeding. The consultant replied that Landon was “cluster feeding” which is when babies feed close together at certain times of the day.

The consultant also said that Jillian might have a problem making milk because of her PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome. Jillian was told that it was harder for women with PCOS, which creates a hormonal imbalance, to produce milk.

Despite all this, Jillian was encouraged to breastfeed. A nurse carefully observed her and said Landon’s latch was excellent.

Later, it was determined that Jillian’s risk factors for having trouble producing milk included “borderline diabetes, PCOS, issues with infertility, small, widely spaced nipples with minimal growth during pregnancy, being a first-time mom, and emergency c-section.” (Read more here)

By the second day in the hospital, Landon had nursed for almost 14 hours and had lost 9.72% of his birth weight. Johnson was not producing enough milk and it was taking a toll on her baby. Unfortunately, Jillian did not yet know this.

For reference, scientific literature says that babies who lose more than seven percent of their birth weight are at high risk of developing jaundice and hypernatremia at levels that can result in long term developmental disabilities.

In fact, about 10% of babies who are born healthy and exclusively breastfed will have hypoglycemia at levels that cause a 50% decline in the child’s ability to pass tests at 10 years of age in literacy and math.

On his second day, Landon and his mother were released from the hospital. Jillian shows pictures on her blog of her baby having significant and visible weight loss. Less than 12 hours later, Landon’s parents found him blue and without a pulse after a feeding.

His parents called 911 and at the hospital he was diagnosed with hypovolemic shock. Hypovolemic shock occurs when fluid is rapidly lost and leads to multiple organ failures. Landon was only 15 days old when he died.

Jillian’s blog post can be found on the Fed Is Best Foundation’s website. In light of Landon’s story and others, The Fed Is Best Foundation is dedicated to raising awareness about the rise of hospitals exclusively breastfeeding newborns.

This, as Jillian’s case shows, can lead to feeding complications from insufficient breast milk intake which can threaten a newborns’ brain with complications such as jaundice, hypoglycemia, hypernatremia, and dehydration.

In regards to Jillian’s situation, Dr. Christie del Castillo-Hegyi, a newborn brain injury and breastfeeding complications researcher and co-founder of Fed Is Best, told CBS News that Jillian’s situation is “sometimes called the ‘second-night syndrome’ of starvation.”

Del Castillo-Hegyi says that babies should be nursing about every 2 or 3 hours and should not be looking for milk after a feeding. If babies are continuously nursing it means that are not getting enough milk during breastfeedings.

The Fed is Best Foundation aims to make mothers aware of some of the main signs of a newborn being hungry in the first days of life and gives information about how to safely breastfeed as well as providing parent resources. The foundation does not necessarily support one method of feeding over another. Instead, it encourages mothers to choose whatever clinically safe feeding method is best for their babies, whether breast milk, formula, or both.

Read more about Jillian’s story on CBS News here.

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