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Mom Warns That Cluster Feeding Led to Her Newborn's Death

Photograph by Twenty20

Jillian Johnson's son, Landon, would have been 5 last week had he lived through the heartbreaking ordeal that took his life.

Instead of celebrating a milestone birthday, this grief-stricken mother has opted to share with the world the cluster-feeding nightmare her family endured in hopes that no other baby will experience this avoidable pain.

Like most expectant couples, Jillian and her husband, Jarrod, wanted to do what was best for their son. They read all the parenting books and took every parenting class. In each, there was a reoccurring theme: "Every class and book was geared toward breastfeeding," Johnson explains in a post she wrote for the Fed Is Best Foundation website, "and how it’s so important if you want a healthy child."

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Even the hospital where Landon was born was "baby friendly" (i.e., breastfeed or bust). According to Johnson, unless you had a breast augmentation, cancer or some other medical reason as to why you could not breastfeed, your baby wasn't getting any formula. And, if you did opt to go the faux milk route, it would require a written prescription from the child's pediatrician.

So, what happens if Mom can’t produce enough milk?

After an emergency C-section delivery, Jillian began breastfeeding her newborn son. He became a permanent fixture to her breast, crying whenever she tried to pull away.

"He cried all the time," Johnson writes. "He cried unless he was on the breast and I began to nurse him continuously. The nurses would come in and swaddle him in warm blankets to help get him to sleep. And when I asked them why he was always on my breast, I was told it was because he was cluster feeding."

In his first 24 hours of life, Landon nursed for more than nine hours, yet, his weight continued to drop. After only 53 hours, he had lost 9.72 percent of his birth weight and by his third day of life, he was discharged and sent home to breastfeed on a mother whose milk had not come in.

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"So we took him home . . ." wrote Johnson, not knowing that he was dehydrated and would go into cardiac arrest less than 12 hours later.

"I had no idea that he was inconsolable because he was starving—literally."

Photo courtesy The Fed is Best Foundation

Landon fell asleep while cluster feeding and never regained consciousness. He was placed on life support and died 15 days later. The ER physician who handled Landon's case believes that he died because of dehydration, followed by cardiac arrest that was caused by brain injury. And all of this could have been avoided had the Johnsons known what they were about to find out.

Though it is of little comfort to this grieving family now, one of the NICU doctors on staff shared an important message that all breastfeeding mothers should made aware of.

"Sure breast is best, but follow with the bottle; this way you know your baby has eaten enough," he said.

In a confronting post published on The Fed is Best Foundation website, Jillian admits to feeling guilt over the loss of her son.

“I should’ve known,” she writes. “I still struggle daily feeling as though I failed him.”

If you are a nursing mother, feeling pressured to avoid supplementation, be aware of the signs and symptoms of starvation because it can happen. We all need to eat if we want to survive, especially infants. If you believe that your newborn is not getting enough nourishment while breastfeeding, don’t assume that they are.

Learn from this mother’s incredible loss and do whatever needs to be done to feed your baby until they are satisfied—even if it means buying formula.

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