A newborn's death caused by starvation is sparking heated conversations about exclusive breastfeeding.
A viral post about a newborn's death caused by starvation is sparking heated conversations about exclusive breastfeeding.

You've probably seen the story - a mother is speaking out about how her newborn starved to death because he was exclusively breastfed. Proponents of nursing believe the mother was not given proper information from the lactation consultants with regard to ensuring the baby was getting enough to eat.

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Others are using this story to point fingers at "crunchy mamas," who adhere strongly to "Breast is Best."

Jillian Johnson's son Landon would not stop crying. She and her husband were educated parents with a strong support system, and were in contact with a 'baby-friendly' hospital that encouraged nursing exclusively.

Jillian even visited a lactation consultant who said that perhaps her Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) was preventing her from producing enough milk, and suggested she use some herbs and other methods of increasing supply.

Johnson's son Landon died the day after that meeting, at just 15 days old, from hypernatremic dehydration and cardiac arrest from hypovolemic shock. Little Landon's organs basically shut down from dehydration and his body went into shock. Johnson said that had she known he was starving to death, she'd have given him formula.

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According to her, unless you presented doctors with some serious medical reason why you couldn't breastfeed, babies of the hospital with which she was working would not be given formula unless a prescription was written by the pediatrician.

While it may seem like an attempt to pit "Breast Is Best" against "Fed Is Best," I'd hope that if we looked hard enough, at the core, this is not that black or white a situation. It's easy to judge the mother. Who needs a prescription for formula? Go to Target if you think you need formula! Get a second opinion!

She said she read all the books and I'm pretty sure they all say if your newborn is inconsolable, seek medical attention. If that doesn't help, seek more! Find out what's wrong!

The problem is that she tried. She spoke to lactation consultants, and I'd assume her pediatrician. Their 'baby-friendly' practices advised her to stay away from formula. As natural and organic a mother as I'd like to think I am, I know there are definitely times when formula is needed.

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When my second son was born, I thought I had the perfect baby. He rarely cried, slept well and though nursing wasn't easy, we figured it out, until I went to the pediatrician's for the two week appointment. He advised me to check with our LC because Luke still was under birth weight by an ounce. Not a big deal for a nursed baby, but to be sure, I headed right over.

She weighed him pre/post feeding, watched me nurse, watched me latch, asked a ton of questions and then finally said, "Well, honey, you're doing it all right. Don't worry about that ounce. He's doing fine with you feeding him on demand."

I laughingly replied, "Yep. Every 5-6 hours, he wakes up for his meal," and she freaked out! She could not believe that he was sleeping that long and I'll never forget her telling me, "Sweetheart, he is what we call 'content to starve.' Those babies like to sleep more than eat. You've got to wake him up!"

Here, I'd been 'feeding on demand,'- perfect latch, tons of milk, no major issues at all, and still, I was failing my baby.

What about, "Never wake a sleeping baby?" No one told me what to do if the baby didn't demand! How should I have known that? Talk about mother guilt. My first son died a year earlier, and I was already paranoid something would happen to Luke. We went on a round-the-clock schedule with me waking him every 3 hours, as well as using a supplemental nursing system (SNS).

Nursing was not easy, even though I listened to every single well-intentioned clinician, but you know what gave me the most security?

These simple words from my lactation consultant: "Feed the baby." She wasn't trying to tell me that to scare me into thinking that if I didn't use formula he'd die, and certainly not to discourage me from nursing. She told me that to support me and help me stop feeling so guilty about the mere thought of formula in my son if that's what it took to ensure he received nourishment.

She told me her goal as a lactation consultant was to first and foremost ensure the baby was fed and thrived, and I appreciated that candor so much.

My point is that while I think this very, very sad situation can be (and, apparently is) looked at from two very different perspectives - from one who has stood in front of her child's coffin and also spent three years in feeding therapy with another child - I hope people can see that while we push breast as being best (and I believe it is!), we need to make sure there is room for the add-on of "if at all possible."

We need to support our sister mamas when they need to turn to formula without making them wear scarlet letters of shame for not being 'baby-friendly,' or doing 'what's best' for their babies. The price is too high not to.