*Wow, few women may be aware that their newborn could actually starve to death accidentally, because you couldn’t produce enough milk to breastfeed…exclusively. Jillian Johnson suffered a mother’s nightmare when she lost her son, Landon, 19 days after he was born because she felt pressured to breast feed but hadn’t produced enough milk to do so.
“If I had given him just one bottle, he would still be alive,” Johnson writes in a blog post for the non-profit organization Fed Is Best. “If only I could go back in time.”
PEOPLE magazine reports, Fed is Best advocates for safe breastfeeding — including supplementing with formula when medically necessary or strictly formula feeding for those who want or need to — in response to the tragic stories of mothers accidentally starving their babies, according to co-founders Jody Segrave-Daily RN, and Dr. Christine Del Castillo-Hegyi.
In the case of Johnson and her son Landon, inadequate milk supply in the first days of the baby’s life ultimately resulted in his death just weeks later. Johnson never imagined that pressure to exclusively breastfeed (inspired by the old adage that breast milk is the best milk) could result in the fatality.
“I just want people to educate themselves so they don’t make the same mistake I did,” Johnson tells PEOPLE exclusively. “I couldn’t sit by any more and have another mom feel what I feel every day. I don’t want any parent to have this hole in their heart. Nothing can fill it.”
Landon went into cardiac arrest from dehydration just 12 hours after being discharged from the hospital. “And 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,” Johnson writes. “This way you know your baby has eaten enough … if only I could go back in time.”
According to PEOPLE, fifteen days later, Landon was taken off life support.
“The autopsy report deemed the causes of death were hypernatremic dehydration followed by cardiac arrest causing hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (diffuse brain injury),” writes Dr. Del Castillo-Hegyi on the Fed Is Best blog.
“I had no idea he wasn’t taking in enough milk,” Johnson tells PEOPLE. “If I did, he would be alive. I wouldn’t have hesitated to give him a bottle.”
Segrave-Daly says in many hospitals new moms are strongly encouraged to exclusively breastfeed. Yet each woman’s body is different and the bodies of some women cannot provide sufficient hydration and calories to their newborns in the first days of life.
“I am a NICU nurse who knows how to save babies’ lives, and I was never prepared to witness so much needless suffering from accidental starvation when I started my private lactation and infant-feeding practice 7 years ago,” Segrave-Daly tells PEOPLE. “We have a modern-day tragedy happening right before our eyes and it is morally and ethically wrong.”
Her co-founder, Dr. del Castillo-Hegyi, is an emergency physician and former NIH scientist with a background in newborn brain injury research. Her own baby was accidentally starved due to insufficient milk intake and is now neurologically disabled.
Segrave-Daly advises, “Babies can suffer days of non-stop crying and hunger while nursing day and night without sleep, as they are receiving a fraction of the calories and fluid they need to live.”
Trish MacEnroe, executive director of pro-breastfeeding agency, Baby Friendly USA, the national authority for the baby-friendly hospital initiative says, “Breastfeeding is safe and it is the way our bodies were designed to feed human infants,” she states, “Human mothers produce milk that is best for their infants. Breastfeeding is the most natural way to feed a baby. But it doesn’t always come naturally to all mothers.”
New mothers, please take good care of yourselves and your precious little ones. This is such a sad and unfortunate thing and I hope no other new mother’s have to suffer. Please check with your doctors to see if breastfeeding exclusively is right for you.