By Pam Floyd
I am the mother of a 28-year-old who is neurologically and physically disabled. My son Chaz, fell victim to severe dehydration called hypernatremia due to insufficient milk intake from exclusive breastfeeding in the first days of life. I read breastfeeding books, watched breastfeeding videos, and studied every page of What to Expect. Unfortunately, following the advice of our lactation consultant and pediatrician’s advice resulted in Chaz going 6 days with absolutely no milk intake, requiring admission to the ICU and a drug-induced coma. Chaz was eventually diagnosed with seizures, developmental delay, and cerebral palsy.
When Chaz was born, he was a healthy 10 pounds 4 ounces. I nursed him 20-30 minutes every 3 hours. Chaz produced the expected number of wet and dirty diapers. It didn’t take long for our routine to become feed, stop, make a smudged-up face. Grump a little. Then feed again.
When I mentioned my concerns about breastfeeding to the lactation consultant that visited us on day 3, she mentioned that he had a good stool. So, I must be doing something right. Stools meant that he was getting what he needed.
She added, “the colostrum that he gets now is enough for him until your milk comes in, which should be 4 to 5 days.” But whatever I do, do not supplement. No bottle. No formula.
It didn’t matter to her that I felt like something wasn’t right. That my gut was screaming that breastfeeding wasn’t working. I couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t getting enough. By the time the weekend was over I had re-read my breastfeeding materials and re-watched my breastfeeding videos. We’d latched. But it got where he would feed for a minute or two then he’d turn his head away and fuss some more. The crying got louder each day. On day 3 the pediatrician’s office ensured me that everything was fine.
Don’t worry, he will eat when he gets hungry.
I was asked if I had given him any formula. I said no. She said good…
Because baby formula is sweeter than breast milk and I might have a hard time getting him to breastfeed if I had given him formula.
By the 7th day, I was sure he hated me. He would take one look at my breasts and scream. He still had the correct number of diapers. I called the pediatrician again and was told…
You’re a new mother you don’t appreciate how much he is getting.
Besides with breastfeeding you never have to worry about how much he is getting.
When his eyes began zig-zagging an hour later. I called the pediatrician again to let them know he was having a seizure. I was told…
Newborns’ eyes sometimes do that. They tend to be unfocused. So they often wander.
My husband and I rushed him to the pediatrician despite their opinion of the problem. When we got there, we were told that he’d lost more than twenty percent of his birth weight.
I was so angry, not only had everyone ignored my concerns. But none of my baby books or videos mentioned the possibility of dehydration. Nor did the nurses, lactation consultants, hospital, or doctors tell me what to look out for.
My feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy were so strong and compounded with the stress of Chaz being in a drug-induced coma, I was infuriated because no one would listen to me. Not to mention it was preventing me from getting adequate sleep.
One thing I did know was that my mom instincts were spot on.
After I got out of my fog I took my story to our local paper, which was then picked up by The Wall Street Journal article, “Dying for Milk: Some Mothers, Trying in Vain to Breastfeed, Starve Their Infants,” as well as radio shows, and talk shows. I wanted to stop dehydration due to exclusive breastfeeding.
That was 28 years ago. And it’s still happening. The medical community is still failing new moms. We’re told that if we don’t exclusively breastfeed then we’re bad people. I had several people tell me this when I purchased baby formula for Chaz.
I told this story to Fed is Best in a previous article. I’ve since written a detailed account of the experience in Mother Knows Best: A Memoir. According to Dr. Marianne Neifert, who was kind enough to write an Afterword for Chaz’s memoir. “Pam’s courageous conviction to share her story and highlight the controversial topic of breastfeeding tragedy has helped to spur many positive changes in hospital maternity care practices, to ensure the early follow-up and assessment of breastfed newborns, and to incorporate essential breastfeeding education in the training of health professionals.” I did what I could in 1993. But as I said it’s 28 years later and this is still going on. We need to continue to share our stories to prevent this from happening to other babies. And moms, always trust your instincts over others’ opinions. You may just save your child’s life.
Please support Pam Floyd in her mission to raise awareness about the dangers of newborn dehydration related to insufficient breast milk intake by purchasing her memoir, “Mother Knows Best,” by clicking on the link.