Mom Shares Tragic Warning After Breastfed Newborn Dies of Starvation

Mom Jillian Johnson with her late son Landon
Baby Landon/Facebook

The loss of a child is a crippling blow, especially when you feel you did everything in your power to keep your baby safe -- including following the recommendations of medical professionals you look to for guidance. It's been five years since Jillian Johnson's newborn son tragically died of starvation while being exclusively breastfed. Though the warning signs of a problem were there, Johnson was still encouraged to keep nursing. Now, she wishes she could turn back time to give her baby boy a bottle that likely would've saved his life.

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"I wanted to share for a long time about what happened to Landon, but I always feared what others would say and how I'd be judged," the mom wrote in a heartbreaking essay for the Fed Is Best Foundation, an organization "dedicated to the prevention of newborn and infant starvation from insufficient exclusive breastfeeding."

Weighing in at seven pounds, seven ounces, baby Landon was born via an emergency C-section in what Johnson calls a "baby-friendly" hospital that focused on the importance of breastfeeding your child.

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Despite Johnson's polycystic ovarian syndrome diagnosis and a certified lactation consultant noticing risk factors associated with failed and delayed milk production, she was encouraged to exclusively breastfeed. As she told the Fed Is Best Foundation, lactation consultants who checked on Jillian said her son Landon "had a great latch and was doing just fine."

Mom Jillian Johnson with late son, Landon
Baby Landon/Facebook

"Landon cried. And cried. All the time," Jillian tells Fed Is Best. "He cried unless he was on the breast and I began to nurse him continuously. And when I asked them why he was always on my breast, I was told it was because he was 'cluster feeding.' I recalled learning all about that in the classes I had taken, and being a first time mom, I trusted my doctors and nurses to help me through this .... But I was wrong."

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Baby Landon lost close to 10 percent of his body weight in his first two and a half days of life, but was somehow still discharged from the hospital. Jillian continued to breastfeed her baby at home, where he was later discovered unresponsive and without a pulse.

Johnson tells Fed Is Best that Landon was rushed to a nearby ER, where doctors discovered he showed signs of brain injury consistent with oxygen deprivation due to cardiac arrest and dehydration. Doctors helped him regain consciousness -- eventually transferring him to a level II NICU -- but tragically, they had to make the decision to take the infant boy off life support 15 days later.

Mom Jillian Johnson with late son, baby Landon
Baby Landon/Facebook

Like most new parents, Johnson had paid close attention to Landon's few wet and dirty diapers, but Dr. Christie del Castillo-Hegyi, a board-certified emergency physician, points out to Fed Is Best that "scientific literature on wet and dirty diaper production has shown that the number of diapers produced have no correlation with adequacy of milk intake in the first four days of life." In other words, Johnson had no real way of knowing her baby was starving.

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It's estimated that between 1 and 5 percent of all moms aren't able to produce enough milk to exclusively breastfeed. In these instances, moms rely on the advice of doctors and lactation consultants to keep their babies healthy. But, for Johnson, the advice to supplement with formula or try other feeding methods never came.

There are no words I can think of that would even begin to comfort Jillian and other families who've experienced such an unthinkable tragedy. My heart breaks for this mom and her husband, Jarrod, as I can only imagine what it's like to prepare for the arrival of your bundle of joy -- signing up for every childbirth class and reading any parenting book you can get your hands on, before soaking in the glow of that new being -- only to be forced to say good-bye such a short amount of time later.

"I still have many, many days of guilt and questions," Johnson tells Fed Is Best. "What if I would've given him a bottle? I still struggle daily feeling as though I failed him."

My heart breaks for them, and I truly hope they're able to live in a place of peace.

I can remember worrying about each of my children and whether or not I had an adequate amount of breast milk to nurse them. This parenting realm can be a very scary place to navigate -- especially when you're a first-time mom who relies on experts to guide you and make the safest decisions for your little one.

More from CafeMom: 13 Moms Get Real About Why They Chose Not to Breastfeed

I truly hope this unfortunate incident -- and Fed Is Best's efforts to help prevent accidental starvation from exclusive breastfeeding -- can be used in a way that will prevent it from happening again.

"We hope that by spreading the knowledge we've learned that we can help prevent any other family from losing their child to something that is 100% preventable," Jillian wrote in a Facebook post on the Baby Landon dedication page. 

As beneficial as it is to breastfeed a baby, there is no blanket, one-size-fits-all method for caring for a child -- because not every mother can produce enough milk for her little one. Although many will tell you "breast is best," there's nothing wrong with moms who "follow with a bottle" to ensure their baby has enough to eat.

At the end of the day, fed is what matters.

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