The tragedy happened five years ago, but in recent weeks, news of a breast-fed baby boy who suffered from cardiac arrest – and died at 19 days old — as the result of dehydration, is making the rounds on and off Internet.
Not long ago, the baby’s still-mourning mother told her story in a blog post that went viral on Fed is Best Foundation’s website – a group that believes “babies should never go hungry,” and mothers should be supported in choosing “clinically safe feeding options for their babies.”
In the post, the mom explained a breast-feeding consultant in the hospital reassured her the baby Landon was latching well, but he tried nursing constantly, and screamed whenever his mother pulled him from her chest.
Within hours of coming home from the hospital, Landon’s parents found him unresponsive. A doctor said the baby was so dehydrated that his heart stopped beating.
At 19 days old, his parents chose to remove him from machines keeping him alive.
The mother suspects Landon was dehydrated because she wasn’t producing breast milk – she was told that problem could arise after being diagnosed with a hormonal disorder.
While it’s sad news and huge loss, the story has all the components that trigger people’s emotions, some of which may not be backed by facts. As a result, in-our hashtag-happy social medial culture, we must careful that this story doesn’t send the wrong message, or that it’s used to drive an agenda.
Since the blog hit the Internet, the baby’s death has fueled a #BreastIsBest versus #FedIsBest duel.
However, it’s important to remember that it appears that misdiagnosis and mismanagement was the cause of this baby’s death — not breast-feeding.
Why misdiagnosis? Based on reports, such as a story in the Washington Post, the child wasn’t getting the nutrients he needed – a problem that wasn’t detected. On occasion, providers can misdiagnose. In some hospitals, lactation consultants may only have time to run in, check the baby’s latch and run out. Sometimes, they wrongly assume if there’s a latch, there’s milk transfer.
However, a routine weight check before and after a full feeding can accurately measure milk transfer. What’s more, there are other signs of milk transfer in both mothers and babies – such as gradual breast softening after a full feeding, and audible swallowing from the child — that can be more subjective, but are important to consider.
Also, the mother was told she may have a problem producing milk, as she was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, which causes hormone imbalances that can make it harder to produce milk. But, keep in mind that a possible diagnosis and known risk factor doesn’t mean much if it’s not followed by a complete evaluation and proper management.
This situation also shows signs of mismanagement. Mainly, this family shouldn’t have been released from the hospital. Unfortunately, post-partum release happens routinely, but the scary fact is that many complications in newborns and moms don’t surface in the first 24 hours following birth.
To me, it seems rushed release played a big role in what happened to baby Landon. Hospital units can become discharge-happy from under-staffing or — perhaps most importantly – are under pressure from insurance carriers to decrease financial burdens. (For some good – albeit older – information on the issue of rushed postpartum release, click here.)
In this case, if the family was kept another day in the hospital and monitored, it may have resulted in the correct diagnosis and support. And maybe, baby Landon’s fate could have been different.
Simply put, the saying “it takes village” to raise a child is true, and that starts with supporting moms – no matter how they choose to feed their child.
Bottle-feeding won’t increase the number of infant deaths, and new moms need emotional support from partners, family, friends, and professionals alike to deal with often-overbearing postpartum emotions and challenges.
What’s more, health care providers need to do more to properly diagnose and manage moms and newborns.
Nothing can be done to change what happened to baby Landon and his family, but the fact that his mom shared his story may help educate other new moms – and maybe even save other babies’ lives.