Five years after her newborn son’s tragic death, Jillian Johnson is sharing her story in hope that other parents can learn from her experience and avoid the same fate. In a blog post on the site of The Fed Is Best Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to advocating for safe baby-feeding practices, Johnson wrote about her heartbreaking loss.
Johnson’s baby son, Landon, was born by emergency cesarean because of fetal intolerance to labor. He stabilized quickly, and was exclusively breastfed—or it was assumed—for the first hours of his young life.
A Lactation Consultant’s Warning
Although Landon seemed to be latching just fine, one lactation consultant who visited Johnson told her that she may have trouble producing enough milk because of her diagnosis of PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), a condition that can lead to decreased milk production as a result of hormonal imbalances.
Johnson noticed that Landon seemed to have the need to nurse constantly, writing: “Landon cried. And cried. All the time. 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.'”
Johnson remembered the term from her prenatal classes, and felt comfortable trusting what the medical professionals were telling her. But, as she would soon learn, that was a mistake.
By the time Landon left the hospital, he had lost close to his 10 percent of his birth weight. However, it’s actually considered normal for breastfeeding babies to lose this much weight after birth.
Dehydration Lead To Cardiac Arrest
Less than 12 hours after Johnson brought Landon home from the hospital, the baby became unresponsive. It turned out he had gone into cardiac arrest as a result of dehydration because he wasn’t getting enough breastmilk.
“And the best advice I was given by one of his NICU doctors while he was on life support is sure breast is best, but follow with the bottle,” Johnson wrote. “This way you know your baby has eaten enough … if only I could go back in time.”
After several days on life support, baby Landon passed away. Here is a heart-wrenching memorial slideshow of his short life:
Johnson concludes her moving blog post by reflecting on what her unimaginable loss has taught her:
“That little boy gave me ten of the most incredibly life changing months. I’ve been humbled. Challenged. My relationships have fallen apart. Some have come back together. I’ve learned forgiveness. And the true meaning of ‘life is short.’ I love hard—to a fault. But I couldn’t live with myself knowing his death was in vain. I’ve learned so many lessons. I’ve learned the true meaning of compassion and unconditional love. Thank you for taking the time to read this.”
Dr. Rachel Prete, a pediatrician with Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, told Parents.com that Johnson’s case is “extremely rare.”
Still, it is possible for a newborn baby to become dehydrated. Parents should watch for these signs:
- Mom is unable to express colostrum or breast milk.
- Baby shows signs of hunger, such as continuous and inconsolable crying
- These signs are accompanied by a lack of dirty/wet diapers and weight loss
When in doubt, follow up with your pediatrician to ensure your baby is getting adequate hydration and nutrition.