The Letter was from my psychiatrist. It was our way of beating a system that neither of us agreed with, or believed was good for my mental health. It provided protection for me to make decisions that went against the Baby-Friendly Hospital mandates.
The amount of stuff a pregnant woman brings to the hospital for delivery gets progressively smaller, the more children she has. With my first child, I brought three bags; I ended up ignoring 90% of the contents and gave my husband fits when he loaded the car for the ride home. By the time I packed the hospital bag for my third child, everything fit neatly into a small duffel. Even then, I felt like I was overpacking. As long as I had a phone charger, some lip balm, and the Letter, I knew I’d be fine.
The Letter was new; I didn’t have it for my other two birth experiences. It was the result of a long, painful journey, and it embodied all of the knowledge I’d gained over the past several years. It represented a feeling of hope I carried with me as I walked onto the labor and delivery floor at my hospital. Things would be different this time.
On August 11, 2020, Dr. Nicole King, Anesthesiologist, Critical Care Intensivist, Patient Safety Expert and Senior Advisor to the Fed is Best Foundation spoke at the USDA Scientific Report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee meeting warning of the dangers and patient rights violations of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. Watch her address below.
Good afternoon, my name is Nicole King and I am a mother and a physician. As an anesthesiologist and intensive care physician, I am faced with life and death circumstances every day. In no way did I ever consider breastfeeding my child would be as stressful as supporting a COVID patient through their critical illness. Five years ago, I realized how wrong I was.
As a new mother who had had a breast reduction and a physician, I should have known better, but I did not. I fed into the same propaganda, misinformation and fervor around breastfeeding that has grown over the last 30 years as a result of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative and the WHO’s Ten Steps [to Successful Breastfeeding]. I was not informed of its risks and followed the exclusive breastfeeding guidelines, and as a result, my newborn lost excessive weight and was readmitted for dehydration and jaundice.
The current USDA guidelines are filled with the same soft science riddled by confounding factors, that has led to the shaming of women who are unable to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months. The guidelines are an ableist and elitist narrative and read as an invitation to admonish women for failing to produce enough milk for her child. It blatantly ignores research that clearly shows that delayed lactogenesis of mature milk is common, found in up to 40% of first-time mothers and 22% of all mothers, even those who are motivated to exclusively breastfeed. Never mind the 15% of women who are incapable of sustaining breastfeeding past the first month, even with lactation support.
If you are ill and in the hospital, nutritionists are there to calculate the calories needed to feed you in order for you to thrive and recover. Why then are we so easily fooled into thinking an infant who is building muscle, fat and brain cells can be sustained on far less than their caloric needs, purported by the Baby-Friendly policy? If the “biological norm” is put forth as a reason to exclusively breastfeed, then why are exclusively breastfed infants being admitted daily for dehydration, jaundice, and hypoglycemia? Why do we continue to insist on a policy that increases the risk of harm to infants while vilifying supplementation that prevents serious complications? Every day, I protect my patients with medications, machines and nutritional alternatives to overcome so many failures of the “biological norm.” I do this because I too am human and understand that we care and love for each other regardless of our ability to live up to a standard of perfection. Yet we allow babies to become seriously ill by pressuring mothers to achieve this standard of perfection that millions cannot safely achieve. If judicious and humane supplementation is the difference between a hospitalized and a safely breastfed child, then we have failed all mothers and infants in this country by disparaging its use.
The USDA draft policy continues to ignore these realities and thus fails to protect countless infants. National guidelines should never encourage a policy that is directly responsible for the leading cause of rehospitalization of healthy term infants. And most importantly, as a national guideline, it should apply to all mothers, regardless of her ability to breastfeed, across all socioeconomic demographics.
As a mother who followed these guidelines and was led to rehospitalize her own infant, I beg you to consider the plight of all mothers and infants in this country. Every infant deserves to be protected from hospitalization and the complications of an exclusive breastfeeding policy. And their mothers deserve to know that breast milk is but one way to best nourish their children. The USDA is responsible for every child in the US and their policy should reflect this responsibility.
Dr. Nicole King, M.D. is a patient safety expert and Senior Advisor of the Fed is Best Foundation. She is a board-certified anesthesiologist and critical care intensivist.
I had a beautiful, healthy pregnancy with Bryson, with the help of Clomid (a fertility drug), like my first pregnancy with my daughter. After about 31 hours of induced labor, Bryson was here. Seven pounds, twelve ounces, and seemingly healthy! He latched like a champ immediately, and we had zero complications of any sort while in the hospital. He had wet and dirty diapers and was breastfeeding well, every 2–3 hours. His discharge weight was 7 lbs, and I had a follow-up appointment scheduled for two days later.
NEWT is the first tool that allows pediatric healthcare providers and parents to see how a newborn’s weight during the first days and weeks following childbirth compares with a large sample of newborns, which can help with early identification of weight loss and weight gain issues. Bryson was discharged with a weight loss of 9.7 percent at 36 hours of age. The NEWT graph indicates his weight loss was excessive.
The first two days at home were easy. He was a sleepier baby than my daughter was, and unless wet or hungry, he was calm. I continued to breastfeed him for 20 minutes every three hours as instructed. I did begin to notice that his newborn onesie seemed quite big on him. His wet diapers did slow down on the third day, and he hadn’t pooped since the third day either. At two in the morning on July 29th, at four days postpartum, I tried to breastfeed again, but he was just too sleepy to nurse, and he would not latch no matter how hard I tried. I tried so many times, different ways, different positions. I thought he would eventually latch but he just wanted to sleep. I thought, well I can’t force-feed him, so I’ll try again after he rests a little more. I tried several times after that, and he was just less and less interested. He had started to get pale and lethargic. It was also the day of his two-day post discharge checkup at the hospital, so I decided to take him in early, since I was getting concerned.
During the whole drive there, I felt in my heart that time was of the essence. After the nurse checked him, she said he would have to be admitted, as he didn’t look too good, and his weight had dropped to 6 lbs 9 oz; he had lost over a pound in the four days since his birth. She turned her back, and I noticed he stopped moving. I hesitantly asked, “Is he breathing?” She turned around and yelled, “no!” then fumbled and fumbled to open a plastic bag; I finally screamed at her: “do something!” She picked him up and ran him down the hall.
By A Mother from the Fed is Best Community who wishes to remain anonymous
This is my baby girl in NICU. She developed a high fever, jaundice, and dehydration with a 10.1% weight loss 56 hours after birth while exclusively breastfeeding in a ‘Baby-Friendly’ hospital.
During our stay, the hospital pediatrician saw my baby twice a day but he failed to inform us she had a 7.2% weight loss in the 30th hour of life. Hence, we were not given the information to decide if we should supplement with formula.
According to a review published in theJournal Of Family Practice in June 2018, “exclusive breastfeeding at discharge from the hospital is likely the single greatest risk factor for hospital readmission in newborns. Term infants who are exclusively breastfed are more likely to be hospitalized compared to formula-fed or mixed-fed infants, due to hyperbilirubinemia, dehydration, hypernatremia, and weight loss.” They estimated that for every 71 infants that are exclusively breastfed, one is hospitalized for serious feeding complications.
She was always furiously latching and my nipples were cracked and bleeding from constant nursing. She became very sleepy and now I know she was lethargic. Naively, I continued to breastfeed as instructed, and we told everything was fine until she developed a high fever just before discharging. They suspected bacterial infection and my poor baby endured a spinal tap, blood tests, IV glucose, and prophylactic IV antibiotics while waiting for results to come back. There was avery concerned NICUnurse that told me it’s time someone questions the strict exclusive breastfeeding practices of the BFHI. She was the one that told me to look at the weight loss when I was shocked and confused wondering how on earth my little girl caught a bacterial infection.Continue reading →
Washington, DC — On July 11, 2019, Dr. Christie del Castillo-Hegyi, Co-Founder of the Fed is Best Foundation and Jillian Johnson, Fed is Best Advocate and mother to Landon Johnson, who died from hypernatremic dehydration while exclusively breastfeeding, traveled to Washington, DC to provide testimonies to the 2020 USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. This is the first year that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) have included pregnancy and birth to 24 months.
Twenty-five years ago, Chaz, the son of Pam Floyd, was born and developed hypernatremic dehydration from insufficient breast milk intake while exclusively breastfeeding. Chaz developed brain injury from dehydration and now lives disabled with cerebral palsy. Their story was published on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. She was subsequently interviewed on 20/20, which prompted a similar feature on ABC’s Prime Time Live. Pam contacted the Fed is Best Foundation to share her story again to warn mothers of the dangers of insufficient feeding.
Chaz develop hypernatremic dehydration from insufficient feeding while exclusively breastfeeding
“25 Year Anniversaries Should Be Celebrated Not Served As A Warning”
Twenty-five years ago my son almost died. He was only six days old. I had chosen to breastfeed, as everyone around me kept reminding me that ‘breast is best.’ So I followed their advice, and I exclusively breastfed. Even though I felt like something wasn’t quite right those first few days, everyone assured me everything was fine. The nurses in the maternity ward suggested that since I was a new mother, I wasn’t able to appreciate how much he was getting. The home health nurse that visited me, courtesy of my health insurance, the day after I left the hospital, reassured me that as long as he was getting six to seven wet diapers a day, then he was getting enough. And the nurses in my pediatrician’s office told me not to worry, that he was a big baby that he would eat when he got hungry. And my personal favorite, “the great thing about breast milk is that you never have to worry about how much or how little he’s getting. Because he’ll always get what he needs.” Well, that works great, if your milk comes in. My colostrum wasn’t enough for my son, Chaz. And my body never produced enough milk to keep a 10 lb. 4 oz. baby boy healthy. Then when my son’s eyes started rapidly zig-zagging back and forth on that sixth day of life and I called the pediatrician’s office to tell them he was having a seizure, they told me that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that sometimes newborn’s eyes do that as they often wander. Well, the pediatrician finally agreed to see us. We were immediately sent to the emergency room. Then we were transferred to the children’s hospital. There, my son was put into a drug-induced coma until his seizures were under control. His diagnosis was a stroke due to hypernatremic dehydration. Children’s Hospital had me use their hospital grade breast pumps those first few days. The most I ever pumped was 3 cc’s. About a teaspoon. Usually, I just came back with mist. Or what looked like spit. There was never milk. I never got engorged. I never leaked. There was never any milk. I got mad about this. Especially when I found out that it can and does happen regularly. It didn’t show up in any of my baby books or videos. So I called our local newspaper, The Virginian Pilot, and asked them to write an article about it, they did, it was called, “Mother Knows Best.” That was later revived by a journalist from The Wall Street Journal in an article entitled, “Dying for Milk: Some Mothers, Trying In Vain to Breast-Feed, Starve Their Infants — `Yuppie Syndrome’ Among Well-Meaning Parents Stems From Bad Advice — A Generation of Perfectionists.” We made the front page with that one. Of course, that set off a media frenzy. Continue reading →
It was on December 13th at 2:30 in the morning. My water broke as I was sleeping. I woke my husband up and the panic set in. My son was a scheduled C-Section due to the fact he was breech and he was going to be a big baby according to all the scans. I was scheduled for the 18th, which was my birthday, but he decided to come early. My husband and I rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tacoma, WA. This hospital was a “Baby-Friendly” hospital, which meant they push things like exclusive breastfeeding, no pacifiers, and no nurseries. I didn’t think much of these things at the time, as I was a first-time mom and hadn’t pondered on them much. On paper, this all sounded great, and I was excited to go there. I had a simple birth plan: no circumcision and I wanted my husband in the operating room. That was it really. I trusted the doctors and nurses there to help me out.
My son was born on February 18, 2019. He was 6 lbs 10 oz and had a little trouble regulating his temperature at birth. But after 24 hours, he was okay. I was always told breast was the best way to go. I never breastfed my 9 year old so this was my first experience with it.
My son had latching issues at first and it caused major pain and bleeding. But after latch correction and using nipple shields, the pain dissipated. When we left the hospital, my son weighed 6 lbs (9.3 percent weight loss) and at his checkup the next day, he had gained half an ounce.
At home I was feeding straight from my breasts, every time. My son was content and seemed happy. He smiled and was great the entire time, so I thought. I didn’t pump to see how much milk I had because the hospital where I delivered told me pumping in the first 6 weeks could cause confusion for the baby with latching.
Now fast forward to when he was 21 days old. He had his three week checkup and he was extra sleepy that morning. When we got to the doctor, and not only did he lose weight, (down to 5.5 lbs), but he also had a temperature of 92 degrees. He was hypothermic! So they sent us urgently to the children’s hospital in Nashville. Continue reading →
From December 2018 to January 2019, the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives for 2030 published the proposed Healthy People 2030 Objectives for public comment. Of note, the proposed Healthy People 2030 objectives saw a marked change from the 2020 objectives, namely a reduction of the breastfeeding objectives from 8 goals to one, namely, “Increase the proportion of infants who are breastfed exclusively through 6 months” (MICH-2030-15 ). Among the objectives that were dropped from the list were:
MICH-23 – Reduce the proportion of breastfed newborns who receive formula supplementation within the first 2 days of life.
MICH-24 – Increase the proportion of live births that occur in facilities that provide recommended care (i.e. Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative-certified hospitals) for lactating mothers and their babies.
Healthy People 2020 Objectives
Increase the proportion of infants who are breastfed (MICH 21)
We applaud the removal of the last two objectives as patient safety issues have emerged from those two objectives, namely increased rates of neonatal jaundice, weight loss,hypoglycemia and dehydration readmissions. We have submitted the following statement regarding the Healthy People Goals for 2030 requesting for a revision of the current proposed objective and the addition of two new objectives.
Exclusive breastfeeding at discharge is a major risk factor for severe jaundice and dehydration. Both conditions can require in-hospital treatment and can result in permanently impaired brain development. Photo Credit: Cerebral Palsy Law
One of the most important duties of the medical profession is to make health recommendations to the public based on verifiable and solid evidence that their recommendations are safe and improve the health of nearly every patient, most especially if the recommendations apply to vulnerable newborns. In order to do this, major health recommendations require extensive research regarding the safety of the real-life application of the recommendation at the minimum.
Multiple health organizations recommend exclusive breastfeeding from birth to 6 months as the ideal form of feeding for all babies under the belief that all but a rare mother can exclusively breastfeed during that time frame without underfeeding or causing fasting or starvation physiology in their baby. In order to suggest that exclusive breastfeeding is ideal for all, if not the majority of babies, one would expect the health organizations to have researched and confirmed that all but a rare mother in fact produce sufficient milk to meet the caloric and fluid requirements of the babies every single day of the 6 months without causing harmful fasting conditions or starvation. There have been few studies on the true daily production of breast milk in breastfeeding mothers. Only two small studies quantified the daily production of exclusively breastfeeding mothers including a study published in 1984, which measured the milk production of 9 mothers, and one in 1988, which measured it in 12 mothers. After extensive review of the scientific literature, it appears the evidence that it is rare for a mother to to not be able to produce enough breast milk to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months is no where to be found. In fact the scientific literature has found quite the opposite.
In November 2016, the largest quantitative study of breast milk production in the first 4 week after birth of term infants was published in the journal Nutrients by human milk scientists, Dr. Jacqueline Kent, Dr. Hazel Gardner and Dr. Donna Geddes from the University of Western Australia. They recruited a convenience sample of 116 breastfeeding mothers with and without breastfeeding problems who agreed to do 24 hour milk measurements through weighed and pumped feedings between days 6 and 28 after birth and were loaned accurate clinical-grade digital scales to measure their milk production at home. The participants test weighed their own infants before and after breastfeeding or supplementary feeds and recorded the amounts of breast milk expressed (1 mL = 1 gram). All breast milk transferred to the baby, all breast milk expressed and all supplementary volumes were recorded as well as the duration of each feed.
These were the results…
13 mothers perceived no breastfeeding problems while 103 mothers perceived breastfeeding problems. The most common problem was insufficient milk supply (59 mothers) followed by pain (11 mothers), and positioning/attachment (10 participants). 75 mothers with reported breastfeeding problems were supplementing with expressed breast milk and/or infant formula.
Of the mothers with reported breastfeeding problems, their average weighed feeding volumes were statistically lower than the mothers who did not report breastfeeding problems with an average feed volume of 30 mL vs. 63 mL in the mothers who reported no breastfeeding problems (p<0.001). The daily total volume of breast milk they were able to transfer (or feed directly through breastfeeding) were also statistically lower than those who did not report breastfeeding problems. The moms without breastfeeding problems transferred an average of 693 mL/day while those that reported breastfeeding problems transferred an average of 399 mL/day (p<0.001). The study defined 440 mL of breast milk a day as the minimum required to safely exclusively breastfeed. This is the amount of breast milk that, on average, would be just enough to meet the daily caloric requirement of a 3 kg newborn (at 70 Cal/dL and 100 Cal/kg/day). Babies of mothers with no reported breastfeeding problems were statistically fed more milk than those with breastfeeding problems, 699 mL vs. 567 mL per day (p = 0.007). All 13 mothers who perceived no breastfeeding problems produced and transferred more than the study’s 440 mL cut-off as the volume required to be able to exclusively breastfeed. What this data shows is that a mother’s perception of breastfeeding problems is associated with actual insufficient volume of breast milk fed to her child.
Based on the 440 mL cut-off for “sufficient” breast milk production, some mothers who report their babies not getting enough in fact produced more than 440 mL. However, since 440 mL is the amount of milk that is needed to meet the minimum caloric requirement of a 3 kg newborn, if the mother had a newborn weighing > 3 kg as they would expect to be past the first days of life if growing appropriately, many of the mothers reporting breastfeeding problems may be producing more than 440 mL but are still in fact producing less than the amount to keep their child satisfied and fed enough to grow. A supply of 440 mL would actually be just enough milk to cause a 3 kg newborn to be diagnosed to fail to thrive at 1 month since they would not gain any weight if fed this volume of milk. Failure to thrive has known long-term consequences including lower IQ at 8 years of age. So their conclusion that some mother’s perception of insufficient breast milk may in fact be inaccurate as a volume of 440 mL is in fact “not enough” for most newborns weighing > 3 kg.