A mum has shared the tragic story of how her son accidentally starved to death after being exclusively breastfed.
Writing for the website Fed is Best, Jillian Johnson opened up about her heartbreak over the loss of baby Landon, who would just have celebrated his fifth birthday, through insufficient breastfeeding and her belief that: ‘If I had given him one bottle, he would still be alive’.
‘I wanted to share for a long time about what happened to Landon, but I always feared what others would say and how I’d be judged,’ she explained. ‘But I want people to know how much deeper the pain gets.’
Jillian said that she and husband Jarrod had worked hard preparing for their newborn, and ‘every class and book was geared toward breastfeeding and how it’s so important if you want a healthy child.’
Landon was born via caesarean in what Jillian refers to as a ‘baby-friendly’ hospital, where breastfeeding is again the focus unless you have a serious medical reason not to do so.
‘Landon was on my breast – ALL OF THE TIME,’ Jillian added. ‘The lactation consultants would come in and see that “he had a great latch and was doing fine” but there was one who mentioned I may have a problem producing milk.
‘The reason she gave was because I was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and it was just harder for women with hormone imbalances to produce milk. She recommended some herbs for me to take when I got out of the hospital.’
Despite the constant feeding, Landon cried ‘all the time’ and Jillian found that she had to nurse him continuously.
‘Did you know newborns aren’t supposed to cry all the time?’ she questioned. ‘They’re supposed to eat and sleep and dirty their diapers. I had no idea that he was inconsolable because he was starving – literally.’
Mother and son were discharged from hospital after 64 hours, and although Landon had lost 9.7% of his birth weight, this was not seen as a concern for a baby who was being exclusively breastfed. However, 12 hours later, he went into cardiac arrest caused by dehydration.
‘The best advice I was given by one of his NICU doctors while he was on life support is sure breast is best, but follow with the bottle,’ Jillian added. ‘This way you know your baby has eaten enough… if only I could go back in time.’
Jillian wrote that she still has ‘many, many days of guilt and questions – what if I would’ve just given him a bottle? And anger because how would I have known.
‘He was just crying out from his hunger. But I didn’t know. I should’ve known. I still struggle daily feeling as though I failed him.’
Jillian is now bravely sharing her story to raise awareness of newborn and infant starvation from insufficient exclusive breastfeeding, explaining that she ‘couldn’t live with herself knowing his death was in vain’.
‘I share his story in hopes that no other family ever experiences the loss that we have.’
Breastfeeding expert Clare Byam-Cook commented on the story: ‘Newborn and infant starvation from insufficient exclusive breastfeeding occurs when the baby gets so little milk out of the breast that the lack of calories and fluid causes him to lose excessive weight and become severely dehydrated.’
‘If feeding is going well, the mother should feel totally confident to stick with exclusive breastfeeding. But if her baby is clearly not getting enough milk the mother should not feel any sense of failure or guilt if she needs to give her baby a bottle.’
If you’re unsure about how much milk your baby is getting then speak to your health visitor or doctor.