Newborn baby Landon kept crying, his weight was dropping, and his mom insists he was starving.
In a heartbreaking message on what would have been Landon’s fifth birthday, his mom Jillian Johnson says the little boy would be alive today if she had bottle-fed him instead of relying solely on breast milk.
Ultimately, Landon died after going into cardiac arrest triggered by severe dehydration. Johnson shared her story with other parents on website, fedisbest.org, to try to shed light on the plight new moms face with breastfeeding their babies and the guilt and stigma they may face when they can’t deliver.
“I still have 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,” she wrote.
Moms face too much pressure to feed their babies exclusively through breast milk, and deal with guilt and feelings of failure when they can’t, Canadian experts say.
It’s an incredibly stressful and emotional time for parents as they grapple with the new addition to their family and learn the ropes of parenthood.
“Breastfeeding is hard and the movies make it out to look easy. The first few weeks can be really challenging – you’re sleep deprived, your hormones are all over the place, your body is still recovering. It takes a lot of work and for many women it can be achieved with practice and support but for some women, it’s just not feasible,” Dr. Natasha Saunders, a pediatrician at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, told Global News.
Saunders looks after patients from birth to 18 years old and spent the past few years managing newborn care. She’s seen firsthand the burden new moms carry to breastfeed their babies.
But for some women, they could have medical conditions that bar them from breastfeeding, their babies could have complications that prohibit breastfeeding, they could have trouble latching on, or moms could have an inadequate milk supply.
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In Johnson’s case, she was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) while nurses suggested Landon took up “cluster feeding,” which meant that he tended to nurse a handful of times within a short timeframe. Johnson said she wasn’t producing enough milk to keep Landon nourished and growing.
It doesn’t help that universal guidelines, from the Canadian Paediatric Society to the World Health Organization, recommend exclusively providing breast milk for the first six months of life for babies.
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“We hear from pediatricians that breast milk is best but what’s lost in the message is we don’t pay attention to what mom’s needs are and her mental health. The stigma is really there and we’re not doing a good job to reduce that stigma and demonstrate that formula feeding and bottle feeding are also appropriate and acceptable,” she said.
There is “no doubt” that breast milk is most ideal for newborn babies, Dr. Catherine Pound told Global News.
Pound is a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and member of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s nutrition committee.
Across the board, medical literature has pointed to the benefits of breastfeeding: it decreases rates of hospitalizations for infection for baby, decreases risk of gastrointestinal illnesses and ear infections for baby, improves neurodevelopmental outcomes and decreases risk of obesity later on in life, for starters.
In moms, it lowers the risk of ovarian cancer and, if the process is smooth, protects against postpartum depression.
Pound admits she is a strong supporter of breast milk for babies, but she emphasizes that if moms can’t provide exclusive breastfeeding, it’s okay.
“There’s no shame and no guilt associated with formula feeding. There are other ways to take care of your baby,” she said.
She said that the onus is on doctors and nurses on the frontlines. While they readily dole out generic advice that “breast is best” they don’t offer women the tools and skills to get the job done, especially if problems crop up.
“People know that it’s best for baby and they want to do it but they’re not given support or real advice on how to troubleshoot, to address problems to correct a latch…the blame is onto mom’s shoulders and that’s not fair,” Pound said.
The experts provided these tips to help parents decipher if they may need to seek medical advice when it comes to breastfeeding:
- Your baby’s weight shouldn’t drop. Your newborn is weighed at delivery and again at discharge. New moms typically follow up with their doctors within 72 hours to see how weight and breastfeeding have progressed.
- Your baby should be urinating. Saunders’ rule of thumb is at least one wet diaper on day one, two on day two, three on day three and so on for the first five days or so. If your baby isn’t producing urine, it may be a red flag that he isn’t getting enough breast milk.
- Your baby shouldn’t be falling asleep at the breast. Your baby also shouldn’t be sleeping for hours, skipping feedings altogether. Typically newborns are nursed every two to three hours.
- Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. If it does, there may be a problem with the latch.