Mom Warns Others of the Pressure to Breastfeed After Accidentally Starving Her Newborn

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(Screenshot / People)

A grieving mother is speaking out, hoping that sharing her loss will help other new moms. Five years ago, Jillian Johnson and her husband, Jerrod, had just welcomed their first child, son Landon. Two weeks later, Landon was dead due to cardiac arrest caused by dehydration. Her healthy seven-pound, seven-ounce baby had starved to death.

When Jillian and Jerrod discovered they were expecting, they did everything new parents typically do to prepare: they read the baby books, took classes, and made many decisions about how they wanted to raise their baby. After deciding their baby would be exclusively breastfed, the Johnsons selected a “baby friendly” hospital for delivery. Baby-friendly hospitals are completely geared toward breastfeeding, and often require a prescription to give a baby formula.

After Landon’s birth, Jillian noticed that unless her son was constantly hungry, and when he wasn’t on her breast he cried inconsolably.  “Landon cried. And cried. All the time. He cried unless he was on the breast and I began to nurse him continuously,” Johnson said. When she asked why Landon ate so much, she was told he was cluster feeding. “Being a first time mom, I trusted my doctors and nurses to help me through this – but I was wrong.”

Despite being identified as having several risk factors that can lead to low milk production, Johnson and her son were discharged from the hospital two-and-a-half days after he was born. Johnson was encouraged to exclusively breastfeed even though Landon had already lost almost 10% of his birth weight. Twelve hours after arriving home, Landon’s parents found him unresponsive, pulseless and blue after he’d fallen asleep cluster feeding.

In the hospital, Landon was diagnosed with hypernatremic dehydration and cardiac arrest from hypovolemic shock, a condition in which rapid fluid loss results in multiple organ failure. While in the intensive care, a doctor told Johnson, “Sure breast is best, but follow with the bottle.” Johnson wants to make sure other new parents know this advice, before it’s too late.

Johnson wants other parents to know the signs of infant starvation: constant unsatisfied nursing, lethargy, and inconsolable crying. As a first-time parent, Johnson had no idea that her son was showing signs that he wasn’t getting enough to eat.

On what would have been Landon’s fifth birthday, his mother still struggles with guilt, anger, and what-if scenarios. “What if I would’ve just given him a bottle? If I had given him just one bottle, he would still be alive.”