Denmark’s Restrictive Breastfeeding Policies Forced me to Sneak in Sugar Water to Feed my Starving Baby

DenmarkBaby

I am currently in Denmark, one of the Scandinavian countries which boasts some of the world’s highest breastfeeding rates. It is illegal for baby formulas to be advertised or promoted. No ‘samples’ are ever given from a hospital. As a result, some 98% of mothers leaving maternity wards are breastfeeding their babies. Moving to Denmark while 6 months pregnant, this was one of the many policies that I was looking forward to, having no idea that there could be anything negative about it.

My pregnancy was the result of 4 years of ART cycles – 2 IVF’s, 3 frozen embryo transfers, and 2 miscarriages.  So when we were finally, really truly pregnant and this little one seemed to be sticking around, I went right to the library to get armed with all the best info for the remainder of my pregnancy and beyond. I was going to do absolutely everything just right for my miracle baby.

I am very sad to say that one of the first books I got from the library was a popular breastfeeding bible on breastfeeding. I was floored reading that breast milk was so important- I had no idea, (how I managed to be a resilient, productive human being despite being raised on formula was a part of the equation that escaped me, but that is a different story) and so that lead me to La Leche League meetings, breastfeeding forums, and support groups.

I did not have a nice pregnancy. I had terrible morning sickness until about 20 weeks, then I had about 2 weeks of feeling good before the unusual swelling began and I was generally feeling really bad. At the end of my pregnancy, my blood pressure spiked dangerously high, I had protein in my urine, and I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. I was induced and 2 days later gave birth to my baby girl. Unfortunately, I had excessive bleeding due to a piece of retained placenta, and less than an hour after giving birth I was taken to surgery. I lost a total of 2 liters of blood.

Some hours later I was reunited with my baby and husband. Even that night in my exhausted, groggy, and anemic state, I was ecstatic and I was instructed to have lots of skin to skin contact with my baby to initiate breastfeeding.

The next day, the doctor came in to let me know that my hemoglobin was very low, and strongly recommended that I have a blood transfusion. She also let me know that because of my blood loss, I might be delayed in having my milk come in. That particular line was one that was repeated to me by nurses, doctors, and midwives throughout my stay at the hospital. I look back at that in wonderment – no one recommended supplementation to make sure my baby would be okay until my milk came in knowing that in full likelihood my milk would be delayed.

My  girl never urinated in her first 2 days, but she did produce bowel movements. She seemed nauseous and wasn’t terribly interested in breastfeeding in her first 24 hours. I was reassured that in their first 24 to 48 hours, babies may not suckle and it was normal. I was given instructions to massage my breasts and express colostrum, which I could try to give her on a teaspoon. I never got anywhere close to a teaspoon full of colostrum at any point. I got little drops that I tried in vain for her to take.

As we approached her full second day, she was nursing. And nursing. I was instructed to keep putting her to the breast. They helped with my latch, which eventually was very good. I was also still trying to express what I could, but I was beginning to panic that she wasn’t getting enough. The irony here is that I thought, “Thank goodness for all the support for breastfeeding, because otherwise I would have folded and gone to formula.” Breastfeeding, despite “being the most natural thing in the world” was not intuitive. It was hard, and I was worried.

There is a foggy period here in my memory due to exhaustion. I did ask my husband to bring in a vacuum flask of fresh boiled water so that I could dissolve some sugar in it to give to her. I got this from a popular breastfeeding pediatrician’s website that I googled on my smart phone while in hospital… I didn’t even think to ask my husband to bring formula because of course, if she really needed it, wouldn’t the hospital recommend it? Add to this all the other brain washing I’d had by the lactivist community.

I hid the sugar water from the nurses. I gave her the few drops of colostrum I could get out of me in a teaspoon of sugar water and hoped my milk would hurry up and come in. She had lost more than 10% of her body weight by that point.

On the beginning of our 3rd day, she was still losing weight, and still no wet diaper. I was now in distress and so worried for my girl. I hadn’t slept trying to nurse her all night. The instruction I had received was to keep putting her to the breast. It was at this point that an experienced older nurse came in to check on us. Her spoken English was not strong, but she understood me and she spoke with my husband. I told her how worried I was. I finally asked if I could have formula. She and my husband talked, and I could see the relief in both of them. My husband had asked her, “What are we going to do about this?” to which she replied, “The baby needs formula! A baby needs to eat!” We had given her the green light, and bless her, when she came back she said, “A tired mum doesn’t make red blood cells or milk.” We tried with a little cup first, and my baby didn’t do well with that, so the nurse got us a little bottle.

My little girl sucked on that bottle so fiercely, I think she barely breathed as she inhaled her 20 ml formula. I sobbed with relief and grief. It was a full half day later before a pediatrician reviewed her file and prescribed supplementation. My girl was born weighing 3.3 kg, by her 3rd day she had lost nearly 500 grams. That was 15% of her body weight.

I am so sad and angry about the experience my little girl went through, and also about what I experienced myself. I knew my baby needed nourishment, but the “breast is best”,  misinformation took over and ‘Baby Friendly’ hospital breastfeeding policies prevented any suggestion of formula or supplementation until after my baby proved she needed it.

In my physically exhausted and sleep deprived state, I made my own sugar water because I didn’t demand formula or proper supplementation when I knew my baby needed it. Even worse is thinking about what might have happened had I not acted on my own. No one checked her glucose levels. What if I had done nothing and simply waited for the hospital to recommend action?! That one still haunts me.

In summary, I should not have had to ask, demand, or otherwise request supplementation. I should have never felt like I needed to sneak something in to feed my baby. Supplementation should have been recommended so that my baby was protected.

I will forever be thankful to the nurse who said, “A baby needs to be fed, and a tired mum doesn’t make red blood cells or milk.” She reassured me we were doing the right thing. One week after we were discharged from the hospital, Vivian was back up to her birth weight.

Vivian is now 2 months old. We successfully combo feed her and she is flourishing. She prefers the breast, but will take a bottle when it is not enough. I am well enough now that perhaps I could power pump to get my supply up enough to exclusively breast feed her, (my supply never seemed enough for her) but my husband rejoices in being able to give her a bottle when he comes home from work, and I feel secure knowing that she is satisfied, fed and happy.

What is so sad is, the nurses and doctors were most likely trying to prompt me to ask for formula, but me being new to the country, I did not know that they could not suggest formula until I asked for it.

~Alexis, a forever #FedIsBest advocate.

*Note – Alexis has discovered that she can request an audience with the hospital administration to discuss her case, and she will be doing so in the near future. She has also began investigating Danish law and the WHO code specifically.


For more information on how to protect your baby from feeding complications due to early exclusive breastfeeding, please read and download the Fed is Best Feeding Plan, a way to communicate your feeding choices to your health care providers.

In addition, please read and download the Fed is Best Weighing Protocol to prevent newborn dehydration and failure to thrive.

Lastly, for more detailed information, please watch our educational videos on Preventing Feeding Complications.

Our full list of parent resources can be found on our Resource Page.

9 thoughts on “Denmark’s Restrictive Breastfeeding Policies Forced me to Sneak in Sugar Water to Feed my Starving Baby

  1. Steffen says:

    so sad you had to go through this in this way..

    my wife had breast feeding problems with our first girl and eventually demanded that we got some milk replacement.
    because of that experience with the second girl we demanded right away the milk replacement, only to find us fighting with the hospital for the entire week we were there…
    there is too much focus on the few undocumented advantages of breast feeding and to little focus on the health of the child in Danish hospitals. as a parent you have to demand what you want and believe me once, twice and more might not be enough, and if they say something different you have to tell them right of the bat that you are this child’s parent and you decide what you want to do not them or anyone else. they simply does not understand it in any other form. it’s sad that this is what a otherwise good practice have come to.

    enjoy your little toddler because they grow up way to fast 🙂

  2. Katie Thomas says:

    This is difficult, this woman wasn’t medically able to breastfeed completely and her baby could’ve suffered permanent health problems if that nurse hadn’t gotten her some formula. There are plenty of reasons why some women can’t /won’t breastfeed and each reason is just fine. Sure breastfeeding is healthy, but so is formula. The important thing is that the baby is fed.

  3. Eva says:

    Hi, I am in Denmark. And yes for both of my babies, I need to demand formula in the first 1-2 days of their life because despite keep putting them to breast, the baby kept crying. My 2nd baby went back to hospital after 2 weeks home due to jaundice (probably breastfeed jaundice), despite being told by the visiting nurse that his weight was fine 2 days before admitted to the hospital due to he didn’t get enough milk. Looking back, I was thankful my kids are healthy, but I wished I would give them more formula. As the lactation consultant said something like, the latch was fine, you have to keep putting them to breast, the baby tummy is small that the baby does not need much milk in the first few days of life.

  4. Jenni says:

    I’m from Finland and my child did not get enough to eat during the first two weeks of his life. I blame this on the exclusive breastfeeding propaganda that we are given from every source. Here new mothers are constantly told not to worry, that the baby will get enough milk if you just keep putting the baby back on the breast and that the baby only needs very little.

    I gave my son formula against instructions given to me, when he became lethargic. My son is now a year old, and I still worry what kind of damage this exclusive breastfeeding propaganda has done to my child. I am extremely angry towards anyone who is spreading this propaganda for exclusive breastfeeding, as it is very dangerous to those babies whose mothers cannot lactate. Expecting mothers should be told what kind of damage exclusive breastfeeding can cause to babies, when they do not get enough milk.

    Also referring to some WHO recommendations is pointless here in Finland, because our water is clean, we have good hygiene here and formula is completely safe here. There is absolutely no reason to tell mothers not to use formula here.

  5. Pernille Gadegaard Gilad says:

    I’m so sorry you had to go through this. I am wondering what hospital you were in? I am also in Denmark and I had a very rough time when I gave birth to my first child in 2015. I’m deeply disappointed with the otherwise excellent health care system that they have fallen for this misogynist breastfeeding woo, harming us and our babies. It’s been almost three years and I am still pissed off.

  6. ruubaarb says:

    The WHO recommends mixing formula with water no cooler than 70 degrees Celsius not because the water might contain pathogens, but because the formula might. No powdered infant formula is sterile. Some pathogens found in powdered formula can make babies very ill or kill them. The 70 degree water kills any pathogens that might be in the formula powder.

    • Christie del Castillo-Hegyi MD says:

      We recommend mixing formula in water warmer than 70 degrees as well. In newborns, the best option is ready to feed bottles.

    • Christie del Castillo-Hegyi MD says:

      Here is the full CDC recommendation on safe formula preparation:

      In most cases, it is safe to mix powdered infant formula following manufacturer’s instructions. But if your baby is very young (<3 months), was born prematurely, or has a weakened immune system, you may want to take extra precautions to protect against Cronobacter. Good hygiene, mixing the formula with water hot enough to kill germs, and safely storing formula can prevent growth of Cronobacter and other germs, like Salmonella 1.

      Clean up before preparation
      Wash your hands with soap and water
      Clean bottles in a dishwasher with hot water and a heated drying cycle, or wash bottles in hot, soapy water by hand and then sanitize them
      Clean work surfaces, such as countertops and sinks
      Prepare safely
      Keep powdered formula lids and scoops clean (be careful about what they touch)
      Close containers of infant formula or bottled water as soon as possible
      Use the World Health Organization’s guidance[PDF – 32 pages] for using hot water to prepare powdered infant formula. These steps, when followed correctly, can kill Cronobacter and other bacteria in formula.
      Boil water and allow to cool to no less than 158° F/70° C before pouring into a clean and sterilized feeding cup or bottle. To achieve this temperature, the water should be left for no more than 30 minutes after boiling.
      Add powdered infant formula. Use the amount as instructed on the formula label.
      Carefully shake, rather than stir, formula in the bottle.
      Immediately cool formula to body temperature to ensure it is not too hot before feeding your baby by running the prepared, capped bottle under cool water or placing it into an ice bath, taking care to keep the cooling water from getting into the bottle or on the nipple
      Before feeding the baby, test the temperature by shaking a few drops on your wrist
      Use quickly or store safely
      Use formula within 2 hours of preparation. If the baby does not finish the entire bottle of formula, discard the unused formula.
      If you do not plan to use the prepared formula right away, refrigerate it immediately and use it within 24 hours 2. Refrigeration slows bacterial growth and increases safety 1.
      When in doubt, throw it out. If you can’t remember how long you have kept formula in the refrigerator, it is safer to throw it out than to feed it to your baby.

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