Grieving Mom Says Pressure To Breastfeed Led To Starvation Death Of Infant Son

Jillian Johnson’s 19-day-old son Landon died due to accidental starvation, and the grieving mom says that pressure to exclusively breastfeed the baby directly led to his tragic death. While living every parent’s worst nightmare, Johnson has chosen to share the story of her baby’s starvation while being breastfed in an effort to help prevent other moms from feeling her pain and to save other babies from Landon’s horrific fate.

According to Johnson, her son’s unthinkable starvation death was a direct result of the pressure she felt to exclusively breastfeed him at birth. In her case, the baby didn’t get sufficient colostrum (the first pre-milk product moms produce) in his earliest days. As People reports, just weeks later he had starved to death as a result. It was an outcome that Johnson never considered, that pressure to exclusively breastfeed could lead to her baby’s starvation and even his death.

Many hospitals have a policy that encourages new moms to exclusively breastfeed their newborns, often without supplementation. The catch phrase “breast is best” is a well-known mantra, and most hospitals even provide “lactation consultants” to help new moms get into the swing of things.

However, not all moms produce milk at the same rate. Despite making the decision to exclusively breastfeed and feeding her infant, Landon wasn’t getting the nutrition and hydration he needed. Just 12 hours after being discharged from the hospital, little Landon went into cardiac arrest. The reason? He was suffering from dehydration due to his mother’s decision to exclusively breastfeed while not producing enough colostrum to keep him alive.

“If I had given him just one bottle, he would still be alive. If only I could go back in time.”

Of course, his mother had no idea that he wasn’t getting enough to eat, that her infant was on the way to starvation and even death. She knew he was fussy, and admits that she and her husband considered supplementing his nursing with a bottle. However, because of intense pressure to exclusively breastfeed, Johnson said that they were afraid a bottle would “ruin” him.

After his cardiac arrest, Landon was admitted to the NICU and placed on life support. It was during that period that his mother was given her first inkling that the breast might not always be enough, and that it’s okay to breastfeed while also supplementing with a bottle. In fact, doing so can prevent starvation and even save a life. According to Johnson, one of the NICU doctors told her that to breastfeed is best, “but follow with the bottle.”

“This way you know your baby has eaten enough … if only I could go back in time.”

Little Landon would spend 15 days in the NICU before he was removed from life support and allowed to pass away.

His cause of death was determined to be hypernatremic dehydration, which went on to trigger cardiac arrest and a diffuse brain injury. Simply put, the root cause of Jillian Johnson’s son’s death was dehydration and starvation, something she claims was the result of pressure to exclusively breastfeed, as well as having no idea that her child wasn’t getting enough fluid and nutrition due to her decision to breastfeed exclusively.

“I had no idea he wasn’t taking in enough milk. f I did, he would be alive. I wouldn’t have hesitated to give him a bottle.”

Since the starvation death of her son, Johnson has joined forces with RN Jody Segrave-Daily and Dr. Christine Del Castillo-Hegyi, co-founders of the non-profit group Fed Is Best, to share her story. Rather than perpetuating the traditional “breast is best” mantra, the organization advocates for babies getting proper nutrition whether or not mom chooses to breastfeed, even if that means formula supplementing or exclusive formula feeding. While agreeing that it can be wonderful to exclusively breastfeed, the group argues that not all moms can pull it off. And when they can’t, it’s their babies that suffer from starvation and other issues.

According to the group’s website, it isn’t always safe to advocate that mothers exclusively breastfeed. Rather, the organization promotes the idea of mothers being “supported in choosing clinically safe feeding options for their babies,” something that has led opponents to accuse Fed Is Best of being “anti-breastfeeding.” The co-founders of the group say that that allegation is completely untrue. Rather, Segrave-Daly says her work with new moms caused her to witness “much accidental starvation” and suffering. Indeed, co-founder Dr. del Castillo-Hegyi nearly lost her infant to accidental starvation stemming from a decision to exclusively breastfeed, and that child is now neurologically disabled.

Fed Is Best focuses on educating moms on how to safely feed their babies, whether they choose to do so by exclusively breastfeeding, using both formula and breastfeeding, or opting solely for formula use. The purpose of the organization is to make sure moms have the education and tools to make sure their babies are getting proper nutrition, and incidents like Landon’s starvation death can be avoided.

It is also recommended that new moms know the symptoms of a malnourished baby, whether they choose to exclusively breastfeed or not. For example, it’s important to know how many wet and poopy diapers your infant is producing if its first hours and days. If not enough is coming out, it’s a good bet that not enough is going in, something to mind if you breastfeed.

Post-birth weight-loss is also something to keep an eye on. Board-certified pediatrician Dr. James Sears says moms should know their babies’ weight before they leave the hospital so they are aware if they are losing too much. He also reminds parents that death by starvation is rare in American infants, even those who solely breastfeed.

“As pediatricians, we have a 10 percent rule: If it’s less than 10 percent, we don’t worry too much.”

One of the biggest recommendations pediatricians have for making sure that babies are safe, fed, and don’t suffer from an accidental starvation death is that parents communicate with their healthcare providers, both by asking plenty of questions and discussing any concerns.

While the debate about breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding is sure to rage on, it is undoubtedly tragic when any otherwise infant suffers a fate as heartbreaking as little Landon. All new moms are encouraged to educate themselves and seek out medical advice when it comes to the choice to exclusively breastfeed in order to prevent malnutrition, dehydration, or even a starvation death.

[Featured Image by Romanova Anna/Shutterstock]

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